CONWAY—Christina Powell has faced more challenges at age 17 than many people see in a lifetime.
Since birth, she has dealt with complications from hydrocephalus and other medical conditions. She has endured surgeries, hospital stays and side effects that might have slowed down other kids.
But through it all, Christina has stayed positive and upbeat. Her greatest joy, she says, is simply getting up in the morning to go to school. It’s a task some teenagers dislike, but she loves school more than anything except her own family. She is a junior at St. Elizabeth Ann Seton High School in the Carolina Forest community near Myrtle Beach.
“We just have a great community here,” she said on a recent Friday morning before leaving for a field trip to visit a glass-blowing studio in Conway. “It’s a wonderful, loving school and it’s where I want to be every day.”
Even when she acknowledges the health issues she has dealt with all her life, Christina gives off an aura of happiness. She smiles when she talks about her relationship with her mother, Amanda Garcia, and her other family members including her half-siblings and step-father, plus her friends and teachers, and her special feline “best friend,” Kitty.
It is obvious in everything she does and says that Christina Powell loves life.
Her happiness and accomplishments are all the more special because Christina herself is a testament to the importance of treasuring and respecting all human life. She would not be here at all if her mother had listened to the advice of doctors shortly after she discovered she was pregnant at age 16.
She was a high school student in Vermont and had gone with Christina’s father to have an ultrasound test done. Test results showed that her baby would likely have hydrocephalus and spina bifida. A doctor tried to convince her to have an abortion because he said her baby would either not survive or would have long-term, severe disabilities.
“It was hard enough being pregnant at 16, but it was completely shocking to find out something was wrong with my baby,” Mrs. Garcia said. She was scared and worried, but she also had been raised to trust in God and knew she was not going to end her pregnancy. Her parents supported her and Christina was born with health issues, but not the dire conditions the doctor predicted.
Christina had her first brain surgery when she was only 2 days old and then another at 7 months. She has endured 20 more over the years.
Despite her health challenges, the baby who was not expected to survive learned to walk and talk early, and was saying the alphabet and reading books as a toddler.
Mrs. Garcia vividly recalls taking Christina for a visit to the doctor who told her she should end her pregnancy.
“For her first birthday, I took her into his office and asked him if he remembered the baby he was so adamant on aborting,” she said. “She knew her ABCs then, recited them to him and then we left!”
Mrs. Garcia said her daughter had relatively minimal health struggles for more than a decade before her condition started requiring more frequent surgeries and hospital stays over the past two years.
Despite the struggles, Christina said she continues to enjoy all of her classes at St. Elizabeth Ann Seton, especially English because reading is her favorite pastime. Her teachers recently learned that her eyesight was failing, so for Christmas they purchased her an unlimited subscription to Audible so she can listen to her favorite books, especially ones by Stephen King. She is also learning how to play the piano.
Her feline friend also helps her through difficult nights. Kitty spends nearly every waking moment by her side and they cuddle together while she listens to audio books. The bond between them has even taken on a lifesaving dimension, Mrs. Garcia said.
At times during the night recently, Christina’s heart rate has dipped dangerously low. The cat senses when this is happening and runs into the room where Mrs. Garcia sleeps, and swats urgently at her face with one paw so she will wake and help her daughter.
Mother and daughter also attend Mass together at St. James Church in Conway whenever possible, and pray together nearly every day.
Mrs. Garcia revels in her daughter’s positive approach to life and her accomplishments despite all the challenges she has faced. She said she could “not imagine life without Christina” and thanks God every day that she chose life 17 years ago.
“Following that doctor’s advice would not only have stolen Christina’s life from her, but it would have been stealing from everyone who has met and loved her over the years,” she said. “The message I want people to learn from her story is to never lose hope no matter what doctors say. Despite all the struggles we have gone through, it all could never compare to the happiness and joy she has brought to me and to others.”