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Debi Thomas

San Jose native Debi Thomas has an impressive resume. She was a pre-med and engineering student at Stanford University; she is a graduate of Northwestern Medical School; she was a trained orthopedic surgeon; she was an Olympic champion and bronze medal winner at the 1988 Winter Games in Calgary; she became the first African-American woman to win an Olympic medal at figure skating.

Despite all the accomplishments, her life has been far from rosy. She has been divorced a few times and has no contact with her son; she opened a practice in southwest Virginia, only to see it closed; she filed for bankruptcy, which wiped her out. She currently lives in what has been described as a bug-infested trailer. She has no regular income and lives with her off-and-on boyfriend. Their relationship has been stormy. She also revealed that she has been diagnosed with bipolar disorder.

Her trajectory was one of major success; her life has become tragic. In the bankruptcy process, she had to sell all her possessions, including her Olympic medal. She opened a practice in rural southern Virginia but racked up debt due to the inability of patients to pay her. She accumulated debt of more than $600,000. She no longer has a medical license and started a GoFundMe page to raise money just to survive.

Filing for Bankruptcy

Part of Thomas’s tragic circumstances may be due to her late bankruptcy filing. That is to say, had Debi filed for bankruptcy at an earlier point, she may have been able to save her practice and may not have been “wiped out.”

In general, a consumer files Chapter 7 or Chapter 13 bankruptcy protection. Chapter 7 is straight bankruptcy wherein a debtor sells off possessions to satisfy debt, with some possessions excluded from bankruptcy, whereas  Chapter 13 is for those earning a wage who provide a bankruptcy court with a budget and anything above that budget goes to creditors. Unlike Chapter 7 debtors, Chapter 13 debtors may not have to sell anything and, provided they make payments, can walk away from the debt after three or five years without having to drastically alter their lifestyle.

Unlike Chapter 7 bankruptcy, however, Chapter 13 bankruptcy has a debt limit. $600,000 of debt is well above the Chapter 13 filing limit. As a result, Debi Thomas had no choice but to file Chapter 7. This resulted in her losing almost everything.

Had she not waited, Chapter 13 may have been in the mix. This may have resulted in her keeping her practice, her medals, and her dignity.

Perhaps her determination and grit was a catalyst in her downfall. Had she not been so driven, perhaps she may have taken the bankruptcy route earlier. Perhaps, however, because she is Debi Thomas who is capable of things most are not, she decided against bankruptcy until a desperation point. Either way, her story is quite tragic.

In debt? Bankruptcy may be right for you. Contact the law firm of Melanie Tavare.


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