Pharmacy student Tobi Ayoade was in his final undergraduate semester when he woke up one night, unable to breathe. In 2019, Ayoade was in his early twenties and had never had any major health problems.
At the hospital, his doctors said that his heart had a low ejection fraction — a measure of how much blood his heart pumped with each contraction. A healthy heart has an ejection fraction of 50 to 70%. Ayoade’s had plummeted to 20%.
Ayoade was in the middle of interviews at three pharmacy schools in Illinois and Arizona, out of which he would eventually choose the Roosevelt University pharmacy program. His doctors and some professors advised him to defer for a year, and to return when he was feeling better.
But Ayoade was set on earning his doctorate. He had already had to start over once on his pharmacy education when he moved to the United States. He was ready to make progress towards his dream.
“I knew what I wanted to do,” he remembered. “I didn’t want to wait one extra month.”
Ayoade chose the accelerated pharmacy program at Roosevelt for its close-knit campus and the personal student-faculty relationships. That attention would make the difference through his illness and the pandemic.
After Ayoade missed a term while recovering, all six of his professors agreed to make up his courses with him over the summer. The faculty retaught each class one-on-one over Zoom so he could graduate on time with his cohort.
“I am humbled by his efforts and his persistence,” Dr. Melissa Hogan said during a town hall. Dr. Hogan is the dean of the College of Science, Health and Pharmacy. “And I am absolutely floored by our faculty and their willingness, to a person, to take on this extra work on top of all their other obligations.”
Finding his fit in pharmacy
Ayoade has always been passionate about medicine. As kids growing up in Nigeria, he and his friends used to find herbs and make them into traditional remedies. “I was interested in Western medication, which sparked my interest in pharmacy,” he said. “I had to push through to this program.”
Ayoade had already finished four years of his five-year pharmacy program in Lagos when he won the U.S. visa lottery. In 2016, he restarted his chemistry degree at Northern Illinois University as a freshman, because none of his credits would transfer.
When he toured the Schaumburg Campus, Ayoade liked meeting faculty who seemed deeply invested in his success. Roosevelt University offered the first three-year pharmacy school in Illinois, which would put him on a fast track to his dream career. Ayoade also liked the fact that the school was diverse, and that he wasn’t the only person of color at the group interview.
The Roosevelt pharmacy program, he said, seemed like “a school of pharmacy for the world — it’s not just for Americans.”
Learn more about the PharmD at Roosevelt University.
Commitment and flexibility
Through the summer of 2019, Ayoade got to know his cohort and swore the Oath of the Pharmacist at the white coat ceremony. But his condition didn’t improve. Ayoade would sometimes faint because his heart wasn’t pumping enough blood to his head. His doctors installed a defibrillator in his chest.
After his first term as a pharmacy student, his doctors told him he needed a heart transplant.
“It was scary, because I had never met anybody with a transplant,” he recounted. But he had a strong support system in his family, who kept him motivated and strong. Ayoade’s doctors put him on the heart transplant list on September 10, and by the next morning, they had found him a match.
“It was one of the best things that ever happened to me,” Ayoade said. “I got a heart within 12 hours, when some people have been in that hospital waiting for six or seven months.”
When he returned to class, Ayoade struggled with the physical effort and stamina required to make the daily hour-long drive to the Schaumburg Campus. And then suddenly, in March, surging coronavirus cases shut down universities across the country.
The Roosevelt PharmD program still offered socially distanced lab classes in person, but it posed too great a risk for Ayoade during his recovery. Remote learning gave him more time to study without the commute, which would become even more important over the summer.
Ayoade had missed his fall term during his recovery, but he wanted to finish with his cohort in 2022. Ayoade asked the associate dean if he could work with his professors to make up the courses over the summer.
Roosevelt’s pharmacy faculty often teach classes over the summer or work on research projects, in addition to their clinical responsibilities at Chicago hospitals. All six of Ayoade’s professors signed on to work with him one-on-one.
“I don't know if other schools would have been able to have that kind of flexibility,” he said. “I’m so glad that my teachers were all comfortable with it.”
For the first two weeks of June, as he dealt with new abdominal issues, he took classes during his hospital bed. Ayoade watched recorded lectures all day and dedicated every possible hour to his course work. And it paid off.
“It was pretty tough,” he admitted. “But I felt like I couldn't ask for this and not get it done. I'm glad I did it, because now I’m with my classmates and I don't feel left behind at all.”
Today Ayoade can do things that were impossible a year ago: he can walk for blocks, he can go for a bike ride, and he’s back on track with his cohort. After graduation, he hopes to work with a pharmaceutical company on the production side of the industry.
“Don't ever let what you're going to determine what you can do,” he advises other students. “Don’t let the things that are happening to you, right now and present, affect your future.”
About the pharmd program
The Roosevelt University Doctor of Pharmacy program is the first accelerated PharmD in the Midwest. With rigorous, patient-centered courses, you’ll be ready to join the health care team, providing evidence-based pharmaceutical care in all practice settings. Join our community of competent, committed and compassionate pharmacists. Learn more.