Student: Sarah Mejía

A resilient first-generation college student is defying odds and inspiring her peers with her remarkable college journey despite battling a congenital heart defect. A psychology major at East Carolina University, Sarah Mejía’s unwavering determination and positive spirit are proving that challenges can be conquered with perseverance.

Born with a congenital heart defect, Mejía faced medical challenges from a young age.

Born with a congenital heart defect, Mejía faced medical challenges from a young age.

Born with a congenital heart defect, Mejía faced medical challenges from a young age. Her journey was marked by numerous surgeries and hospital stays, but she never allowed her condition to define her.

“At a week old, I had my first open heart surgery. And when I was 9 years old, I had my second, and I’ve had many procedures since,” Mejía said. “My most recent one was a cardiac catheterization surgery. That was this past summer and it was expected to last two hours and ended up lasting over seven hours instead.”

Mejía’s day-to-day experience includes cardiac palpitations, chest pain and fainting spells.

“I feel like being a student is more me, than being a cardiac patient,” she said. “It’s definitely been a struggle; throughout classes, during any activities or organizations, any meetings. It was a learning process in middle school, high school and now college.”

Mejía actively engages in campus life, having joined over 15 organizations and completed over 100 community service hours in the span of a year.

“I started with Latino Student Union and I just went from there,” Mejía said. “I was always so happy about that year because I knew that I had an impact. I knew that I had definitely helped guide students to what they were lost in.”

One of the key organizations Mejía was involved with her entire time at ECU was as a Student Government Association member.

“I think that for this year especially, having the first Hispanic president presiding over SGA, it was really important to me that the diversity was shown throughout SGA,” she said. “So, I’ve stuck with it this entire time.”

Her involvement in campus activities demonstrates that a congenital heart defect does not have to limit one’s ability to contribute to the community. Mejía chooses to leverage her experiences to effectively help her residents also find their place at ECU.

“As a resident advisor, I honestly had no idea what I was getting myself into,” she said. “I heard from my RA freshman year that it was a good leadership position, where you get to help other students. That had my name written all over it.”

With graduation this month, Mejía looks forward to receiving her bachelor’s degree in political science with a concentration in pre-law and minor in criminal law and legal process.

Sarah’s congenital heart defect left her spending a significant amount of time in hospitals growing up.

Sarah’s congenital heart defect left her spending a significant amount of time in hospitals growing up.

“One of my mom’s friends was an attorney, and the way she spoke about law and helping others through legal processes and doing civil suits or criminal trials, really resonated with me,” Mejía said. “I have always had a passion for it.”

However, Mejía is not content with merely conquering her health challenges and excelling in her studies. Her aspirations reach higher — she dreams of attending law school.

“Law school has always been a priority in my life, ever since middle school. I’ve been interested in the legal career and just helping other people,” she said.

Throughout her college experience, Mejía attributes much of her success to her parents.

“My family has been my main inspiration at ECU; they’ve always told me that I can do anything that I put my mind to,” she said. “So, throughout all of my time at ECU, I’ve always wanted to show them more of who I really am and my passion for helping others.”

This Pirate is fueled by her love of helping others.


Name: Sarah Mejía
College: Thomas Harriot College of Arts & Sciences
Major: Political Science
Age: 20
Classification/Year: Senior
Hometown: Raleigh
Hobbies/interests: Community service, leading others, writing, self-taught activities.
Clubs and Organizations: Pre-Law Society, Mock Trial Association, Latino Student Union, SGA, Black Student Union, Caribbean Student Union, Omicron Delta Kappa, National Honor Society of Leadership and Success, GOLD Leaders, Chancellor’s Student Leadership Academy, Campus Living RA’s, FUSE, and Alpha Phi Omega (a previous brother).


Favorite hangout: Joyner Library
Favorite place on campus: Fifth floor of Main Campus Student Center parking deck
Favorite place to eat: Pirates Deli
Favorite class: Spanish for Heritage Speakers with Dr. Juan Daneri
Professor who influenced you the most: Dr. Jami Rhodes
Favorite TV show: “I Love Lucy”
Favorite band/musician: Cardi B, Megan Thee Stallion, Bad Bunny, Adele


Dream job: A corporate attorney
Role model: Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez
Your words to live by: Change will happen over time whether it’s in your favor or not. Don’t prioritize others before yourself and keep doing you. Stop overlooking the small things in your life and be grateful towards them instead. Every day is not given so do as much as you can when you can.
What is something cool about ECU that you wish you knew during your first year? I would say to speak to as many upperclassmen as you can. They know the offices that you need to go to along with possible issues you may currently be facing and how to resolve them. Go to different offices within ECU and ask what they provide along with any questions.