For East Tenn. Poster Child, 16 Years Of Overcoming Disabilities Is Sweet

By: Mike McCarthy
By: Mike McCarthy

Rogersville, Hawkins County (WVLT) – Even before she was born, doctors were saying she didn't have a chance.

Now that East Tennessee teenager has beaten the odds.

Donna Joy Vance suffers from five brain defects, problems that had doctors recommending she be aborted when her mother was seven months pregnant.

On Sunday, Donna celebrated her Sweet 16.

Friends joined Donna’s family in singing Happy Birthday, on a day the obstetricians and pediatric experts said she would never see.

"They found in the ultrasound that most or all of her brain was missing,” said Lori Vance, Donna’s mother. “What was there was damaged. Her brain stem was damaged and part of her brain had formed outside of her head."

At the time or the ultrasound, Lori was in her third trimester.

"The doctors told me I should have a late term abortion, in other words take her life away from her."

To Donna, that was unacceptable.

"The minute I found out I was expecting her, I already loved her," she said.

On Sunday, Donna Joy blew out 16 candles, provoking strong emotions from her mother.

"Here it is and it's just such an incredible feeling," Lori said.

Donna Joy was born with Holoprosencephaly, a debilitating disorder caused when parts of the nervous system fail to develop.

As a result, she has spent her life overcoming numerous challenges including Cerebral Palsy.

"There's just this really indescribable bond of love that you just have with one another," said Tabythia Vance, Donna older sister.

The Hawkins County teen has also changed the country.

In 1997, her story made its way to former US Senator Rick Santorum, a republican representing her home state of Pennsylvania.

Having sponsored legislation to ban late term abortions, he invited Donna and her mother to Washington DC to talk to his fellow legislators about her life.

Five years later, Sen. Santorum’s legislation was signed into law and he invited the Vance’s back to help celebrate the occasion.

"I think that's the reason why God spared her," said Lori.

As a result, Donna Joy is the poster child for the Partial Birth Abortion Ban Act of 2003, a law giving life to others like her.

"It's an absolute miracle, when I come up the hallway every morning and flip on her lights to wake her up for school, that she opens her eyes and says good morning mommy, I love you."

Yet with her disabilities, Donna isn’t much different than other teens.

"She says she wants a drivers license but I told her we should start out at a golf cart," Lori said. "Donna Joy completes my heart in a very real way,"

In fact, Donna and her family agree, she received the greatest gift 16 years ago, the gift of life.

Donna's mom says she has excelled at the life she could've never had.

Doctors originally told Lori that her daughter would be unable to talk, have memories and never walk.

This year she won a gold and silver medal in the 100 and 400 meter dashes at the Special Olympics.

Donna also sings in her church choir, and when she grows up, she dreams of becoming an actress.


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