While childhood milestones are often marked by first words, first steps, first school days and last ones, Elisabeth Harris’ were framed by firsts of a different kind: the first of 59 surgical procedures, like her kidney transplant, the nine times when she almost died, and the days she chose to live each moment to the fullest.
Growing up, most children celebrate the first 100 days of school as kindergarteners, but Elisabeth sometimes spent 100 days at a time at the hospital. Still, those stays taught her a lot about life and became part of the education that has made her who she is today. High school graduation was not something Elisabeth thought she’d reach, and when she did, she knew it was thanks to the efforts of the medical team who’ve cared for her since 2003.
Driscoll Children’s Hospital has been like a second home for Elisabeth. And while her growth isn’t etched in a doorframe with pencil marks denoting her age and height throughout childhood, it is evidenced in a medical chart that would span more than 100 volumes.
It took more than a village to ensure Elisabeth made it to young adulthood — it took an expert team. Bolstered by the health care professionals at Driscoll, this girl from Corpus Christi would defy the odds and come back “home” to celebrate graduation day like any child would: with balloons and cap and gown.
It was a moment like so many she’s had at Driscoll — one to document. And to revel in.
A milestone that many thought would never come.
After all, Elisabeth wasn’t supposed to make it to her first birthday, let alone graduate from Flour Bluff High School in 2022.
To celebrate, she chose to have senior pictures taken at Driscoll Children’s Hospital.
“I just knew that I wanted my senior photos to show who I really am,” Elisabeth explained. “It felt exciting to have a lot of my doctors in my photos. It felt awesome knowing that the people who saved my life so many times were able to be a part of a huge thing in my life.
“And this is like a home to me. It’s who I am.”
Despite being born with multiple severe congenital abnormalities, especially affecting her kidneys and urinary system, Elisabeth has overcome and even excelled — thanks to her care team at Driscoll. And while the diagnoses keep coming, including one that affects her eyes and eventually will steal her sight, she’s got a strong vision for her future.
Having her photo shoot at the hospital served as a special moment of thanks for the Driscoll staff, who treat around 150,000 pediatric patients each year.
Choosing Driscoll is how Elisabeth’s mother, Tiffanie Harris, said she has coped with her daughter’s health issues — by giving her a chance to get the best help possible, close to home.
For families whose children require expert medical care, they can be confident that their children receive it at Driscoll’s state-of-the-art facilities, which serve all of South Texas — from Corpus Christi to the Rio Grande Valley to Victoria and Laredo.
“I consider the Driscoll staff my family,” Tiffanie said. “They are a part of our lives and have been for so long that there is no other way than to consider them family. They have been there for us at our lowest and have seen us succeed just as much.”
To celebrate that success, Carol McLaughlin, a BSN/RN and Elisabeth’s service coordinator at Driscoll Health Plan, helped set up her photo shoot at the hospital.
“Driscoll Health Plan has always told the service coordinators that we are here for the kids, which has allowed me to reach out to Elisabeth’s doctors and support staff to do just that,” McLaughlin said. “We are family now. I will always be there to provide my best to ensure this young lady has everything she needs to be the best Elisabeth she can be.”
McLaughlin, who first worked with Elisabeth in 2016, recalled her first impression — a lighthearted, everyday kid battling serious, rare health complications. For her, “Elisabeth graduating means hope. And it means endurance. To me, it shows hope not just to Elisabeth but to all the other families that are out there who are going through issues like this.”
To Elisabeth, her choice to celebrate with her Driscoll Children’s Hospital family just made sense. “They’re my biggest supporters in the world,” she said. “They saved my life so many times.”
Thankfully today, Elisabeth’s health is more stable. She checks in with her doctors at Driscoll every few months. And her kidney? Well, it is one of the longest transplanted kidneys still functioning.
“I’m definitely learning to take one day at a time and enjoy every day as if it’s my last because it could be,” she said.
But as Elisabeth nears the end of her first academic year at Del Mar College this spring, she is on the road to achieving yet another milestone and her dream of becoming a forensic scientist.
She’ll use reason and research in her studies, but she’s sure to bring a healthy dose of her resilience, too. After all, many said she wouldn’t make it, but she’s living proof that, with the right medical team, anything is possible.
As Elisabeth ages out of her care at Driscoll Children’s Hospital, she’ll go boldly into adulthood — just as she proclaimed on the sign she made specifically for her senior photos:
“They said I wouldn’t make it, but here I am.”