In a hospital room packed with family and friends, Ty'Asia Brown finally graduated high school Friday evening.
The 19-year-old from North Charleston was supposed to walk with her classmates at Septima P. Clark Academy's graduation ceremonies Thursday night, but on Sunday she was hospitalized due to complications related to kidney failure.
So, guidance counselor Bridget Runyon helped bring graduation to Brown. Runyon stood over Brown's hospital bed, reading a benediction that Brown's favorite teacher wrote in her honor and declaring her officially a high school graduate, before moving her tassel from right to left.
"It's like she didn't miss anything," said her mother, Valerie Pearson.
Brown learned her kidneys were failing on New Year's Day, shortly before she finished her semester at Clark Academy on James Island. When doctors told her she would need a transplant, Pearson rushed to the doctor the next day in hopes she'd be a match.
"I would have gone that day, but it was too late," Pearson said.
After many tests, doctors declared Pearson a match. In less than three weeks, mother and daughter will be side by side in the operating room as doctors transplant Pearson's kidney into Brown's body.
While the transplant will be done at the Medical University of South Carolina, the state's only transplant center, Brown has been treated by doctors at Bon Secours St. Francis Hospital in West Ashley.
The past six months have been full of "bumps, potholes and ditches" for Brown's family, grandmother Eunice Freeman said, but Brown's graduation filled her small hospital room - and her relatives - with joy.
"I can't even describe how happy I am," Pearson said. "She definitely worked hard for it. There are no more tears of sadness, just tears of joy."
Brown was supposed to graduate in 2013. Pearson believes Brown's kidney problems started during her senior year. Brown was constantly tired and sick, and doctors never came to a proper diagnosis. Her illness caused her to miss school often, and excessive absences left her with a semester to make up, leading her to transfer from Fort Dorchester High School in North Charleston to Clark Academy, a school dedicated to teaching students who have fallen behind.
Before the hospital room graduation ceremony, Runyon, the guidance counselor, and school resource officer Kathleen McLean decorated Brown's hospital room Friday afternoon while Brown was in a medical procedure. They tied balloons to tables and chairs and hung graduation decorations from the walls. They even put paper cutouts of Clark's other graduates on the wall so Brown could have pictures with them.
"This is a big success for her and for her family. She's really overcome a lot to be here," Runyon said. "We want to make this special for her."
Brown was happily surprised when she returned to her hospital room after a medical procedure to find it filled with loved ones and decorations.
"You almost made me cry," she said to her family.
Now, Brown is looking forward to the future. She hopes to graduate from Trident Technical College with a degree in child development and study education at South Carolina State University or another school "away from home, but not too far away" from her family.
"It took a long time," Brown said. "But I'm finally here."