NORTH MIAMI, Fla. - Simone Brewton's excitement about wearing her cap and gown for North Miami Senior High School's Friday graduation brims to a giggle.
"I worked so hard to get here, it's been a long, long journey for me so for this to come true is just mind blowing for me," said Brewton.
A life's journey that almost ended for Simone, just as it was starting.
"I was born with Pseudo-obstruction Syndrome," explained the 19-year-old, "that's like a rare disease. I was originally about to die when I was 1 years old."
"It was like a nightmare," said Simone's dad Burley Brewton of getting the news shortly after he birth, "I cried all the way from the doctor's office to my mom's house and then I collapsed. I couldn't believe what I was hearing."
Delon Brewton, Simone's mom, told Local 10's Christina Vazquez, "It was an overwhelming out of body experience. We sat there stunned when the doctor told us your daughter isn't going to make it."
The digestive disorder made gaining weight and absorbing nutrients difficult. Her broad smile and light spirit incredible given her daily struggles.
For the first 14 years of her life Simone couldn't eat solid foods, her nutrients all delivered through a feeding tube inserted into her chest and connected to a backpack she wore every day.
That was until December 2007. Simone was 14 and in a car with her father talking about the possibility of a 6-organ transplant. The procedure was dangerous but promised to improve Simone's quality of life and allow her to eat solid foods, "and he said it would be so cool if God gave you the transplant for Christmas and it happened that way."
It was a grueling 28-hour procedure but Simone seemed to be doing great. Shortly after the surgery she is pictured with a cake that reads "Celebrate a New Life." But four months later, one of the organs would fail.
"So I only had a week to live," explained Simone, "Yeah, one week. For a 14-year-old that's a lot." It was yet another brush with death.
"I decided right then, when they said they needed a donor, I volunteered," said her father. "I had like 21 valves of blood, went to talk to Simone and the first thing she said was I don't want to do this because I don't want to lose you. I mean she was concerned about me. I just can't imagine being here without her and I still can't."
Knowing the surgery came with risks, Simone also worried about her sister. The Brewton's have an older daughter Bianca. The two sisters are incredibly close and Simone told Local 10's Christina Vazquez she didn't want her sister to lose their father.
"I really just had to suck it up and say this is my life," said Simone.
Three days later, a donor would come forward but recovery would take nearly a year. Simone has spent much of her teen years in and out of the hospital.
"The hospital is really my second home. When I was in the hospital I would see kids and their parents were not there and they were like 5 years old and I was 16 and my parents were right there," said Simone. "My mom spent the night a lot, my dad spent the night, my sister, and everybody took turns. I would ask my mom for prayer and she would pray with me and that helped me a lot. We worked so hard to be here. My family made a lot of sacrifices for me."
But it was Simone who was determined to finish school and complete her degree at the same pace as all the other students her age.
"I did home school in the hospital, I did FCAT in the hospital, even when I wasn't feeling good," she said.
When Local 10's Christina Vazquez asks, "Why was that so important to you?" Simone answered, "It was just some part of me that wanted to be normal and going to school made me feel like I was a little bit normal."
"That's why it's just such a celebration for her to graduate," said her mom, "because she didn't miss a beat and she didn't give up."
Simone's Friday graduation from North Miami Senior High School, representing the Brewton Family's journey of faith, love and hope; and while challenges remain, they are optimistic and grateful, knowing each day is a gift.
"We always say Simone is a testimony," smiles her mom. "You know, we always call her 'Moni,' she's a testimony, never give up."
North Miami Senior High School presented Simone with their "Unsung Hero Award." Simone will be taking a year and a half off because she has one surgery left. After her recovery she plants to go to college to become a pharmacist.
"Live life to the fullest," she said. "Don't take anything for granted because it can be cut in an instant."
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