Every person I photograph has a story. For Heather, there was no way that I could describe her story without the help of her amazing mom. So instead of me telling it, every word below is from the perspective of her mom. 

“Four years ago, Heather was considered just a regular teen. She was involved in the national honor society, cheer, gymnastics, dance, volleyball, and track. She was an independent, head strong, full of sass teenager. Suddenly, the American teenage dream was ripped from beneath her. Practices turned to doctor appointments and competitions become hospital admissions. This straight ‘A’ student could never prepare to study for the world that was to become her.

After a year of rigorous testing, she was diagnosed with several Gastro Intestinal diseases which all fall under an umbrella of Digestive Tract Paralysis. Imagine being hungry or thirsty, but you can’t have it because your body refuses it. Imagine having the stomach flu every day of your life. Basically, food had became an enemy. Heather’s digestive system had become partially paralyzed restricting life as she knew it. She became part of a small group of patients with an invisible disease that has no good treatment and no cure. The hashtag (#starvingforacure) is a heartbreaking, accurate statement. A recent two month hospital stay, being deemed an ICU level patient within that stay, with multiple surgeries had originally left a hopeless, helpless feeling of doom for everyone. IV poles, a GJ port, drain tubes, tube feeds for nutrition, numerous amounts of medications, ileostomy bags, wheel chairs, walkers, home health nurses, and Picc lines had become the new accessories. It was as if everything she knew was gone. Even graduating on time was questionable since she had gotten so far behind.

It took several months working through the emotions of this disability to accept that some things will never be. Some things that we take for granted like eating, walking long distances without easily fatigued, and graduating was not something she was going to let this disease take from her. Heather’s spit fire personality clicked and she told them, “sit back and watch”. She’s regaining strength, walking without assistance, and mentoring others recently diagnosed. She’s still a home bound student but now involved with One Act Play, planning to go to prom, and graduating a year early! She’ll be attending college in the fall, getting her nursing degree, and wants to work on the GI floor at Cook Children’s Hospital to help others like herself along their journey. Her fight is far from over, but her determination and drive is bigger. One of her favorite quotes is ‘You may have been assigned this mountain to show others how it can be moved’. It may be a huge mountain with many obstacles, but she’s living proof that heart and determination can move those mountains!”

This AMAZING girl has been through it all and it’s still not over for her. But you wouldn’t even know it all through her laugh and smile. She lives every day with amazing composure and true southern manners. If you ever get to meet this sweet girl, you know that you have meet one of the purest people out there. <3 

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