REHOBETH, Ala. (WTVY) - After more than four dozen surgeries and procedures, one Rehobeth High School honor student will be walking across the stage at graduation.
She's Whitney Stephens, and the Alabama Department of Rehabilitation Services and The Governor's Committee on Employment of People with Disabilities named her “Student of The Year.”
This journey to graduation is one the Stephens family didn't know would happen, but Whitney Stephens, wasn't going to let any obstacle stand in her way.
Whitney Stephens spends her time after school like most teenagers - working part time to save up for college.
In two weeks, she'll graduate with honors from Rehobeth High School.
She'll walk across the stage, but just a few short years ago, she wasn't sure she'd be walking at all.
"I was born with scoliosis, which it makes your spine curve," said Stephens.
Whitney's scoliosis was severe, to the point that one of her lungs couldn't form properly.
Doctors were afraid to operate because they weren't sure if her lung and heart could take it.
So, when she was 12 years old, they had her wear a halo vest around her head with weights to help with the scoliosis.
"In August I think it was, we had the first surgery for it,” said Stephens. “A couple of hours into it, my heart and lungs shut down."
Whitney died on the operating table, but doctors were able to resuscitate her.
They put her in a medically induced coma for six weeks.
And when she woke up, she had to re-learn writing, walking and moving her arms
"I would sit in the back of the room and put a pillow over my face and just cry in the pillow because I couldn't do anything for her,” said Whitney’s mom, Tina. “She couldn't talk, but she would just mouth, 'I want to go home. I want to go home.' I would just say, 'Baby, you can't.'"
Through all 27 surgeries and 50 total operations, Whitney always made it home.
Her parents had to home-school her in middle school because of all the surgeries, but Whitney was determined to go to high school.
"I don't really let it stop me that much,” said Stephens.
She doesn’t let it stop her from studying, driving or working.
She won’t let it stop her future either, Whitney intends on going to Wallace Community College and transferring to Troy on her way to becoming an accountant.
"If I see people somewhat like me, I never see them like other people do, like they're broken or anything like that or hurt. I see them as normal,” said Stephens.
Whitney's mom said she has to go for a final x-ray with her doctor in August, but as long as nothing happens with the rods and pins in her back, she shouldn't need more surgeries any time soon.