Driving down U.S. Highway 78 toward Summerville on a recent afternoon, Cheryl Williams knew something wasn’t right.
“All of a sudden, I just couldn’t see,” she said.
She was 40 miles from her home in Cross, on the way from one appointment to another with her daughter, Abigayle, 16.
Unable to continue, she stopped in the lot at the Old Fort Fire Department.
Abigayle thought about going into the station for help, but was afraid to leave her mom alone. The hospital was too far, she decided, so she grabbed her cell phone and called their family doctor, whose office was just a couple miles away.
“They said they were fixing to close but I was very demanding and said she needs to come in today,” said Abigayle. “I said they have to see her because she’s really bad off.”
With Cheryl’s feet on the pedals and Abigayle’s hands on the wheel, they negotiated the few blocks to the office, where doctors found that Cheryl, who was not a diabetic, had a dangerously high blood sugar level.
“I have no memory of anything,” she said. “I don’t even know how we got to the doctor’s office, but I know I’m here because of Abigayle. She wasn’t taking ‘no’ for an answer from anybody. She just had in her mind what she had to do and she did it.”
Her composure would have been unusual for a typical teen, but Abigayle is no typical teen.
“She’s got her own set of problems, so to be so calm and take charge of that situation was amazing,” said Cheryl.
Abigayle has neurofibromatosis type 1, which causes tumors to grow on nerve tissue. A tumor on her optic nerve has taken the vision in her left eye, which also droops because she’s missing the sphenoid bone.
She also has Kleine-Levin Syndrome, a rare neurological disorder that causes her to sleep excessive amounts; narcolepsy, or “sleep attacks” during the day; and cataplexy, sudden weakness of muscles.
Typically, she stays awake for only about 3 hours at a time, once or twice a day.
“Her brain forgets to tell her body to wake up,” said her mother.
Every couple of months, she sleeps for several days, resulting in a three- to five-day hospital stay.
A freshman at Cross High School, she is on home-based instruction, attending school for, at most, two hours a day.
She is an aspiring photographer with two favorite subjects: nature and herself. She sells notecards made from her photos.
“I think she’s got a bright future and I want to make sure to do all I can to help her get on that right path,” said Renee Nouvelle, who has worked with her since fifth grade.
Berkeley County School District Special Education Director Kelly Wulf agrees.
“Our philosophy is that the greatest skill we can give all of our kids is to be self-determined,” she said. “I think Abigayle, at 16, is our poster child for self-determination and the definition of perseverance.”
Abigayle is more comfortable with herself than most teens, as is evidenced by her daily wardrobe of bright colored dresses, flashy jewelry and high heel shoes.
“To her, we’re the different ones and she’s the normal one,” Cheryl Williams said. “She doesn’t let anything get in the way of being Abigayle. She is who she is and you’re not going to change that. She’s not afraid to be herself and she isn’t bothered by what somebody else thinks about her.”
Reach Brenda Rindge at 937-5713 or www.facebook.com/brindge.