(Top) Victoria before Christmas, (Bottom) she is pictured here at Levine's Children's Hospital. Her mother said she hopes Victoria may get to return home sometime around August.
(Photos Courtesy of Victoria's Mom)
Angie Towery Staff Writer
LINCOLNTON – Seventeen-year-old Victoria Webber is a junior at Lincolnton High School. She was diagnosed with autism at age two.
Victoria's mother, Robin Straight, shares with us, "Although autism is more prevalent in children now, it really takes a community effort to help these children to develop and grow."
Robin said that Victoria received an assessment, by a psychologist, early on, who gave a doubtful prognosis that Victoria would ever experience a "normal life."
"Although Victoria is considered nonverbal, she is able to speak few words but has a limited vocabulary. She mostly communicates through picture cards and gestures. She has been very active through the community. Victoria cheered at Odyssey on their special needs cheer team, she is part of the Special Olympics swim team, she loves riding the bus, shopping, at Walmart and enjoys going to school," says Robin.
Robin also talked about how she could never have asked for a better school system to take care of and teach Victoria. "She is in a self-contained classroom but the teachers allow them to change classes like an ordinary high school schedule. We have just had a great experience in Lincoln County Schools. They have done so much to help her. Victoria's inspiration has been, Jeff Leonhardt, an Adaptive PE teacher. He is like a celebrity to her."
"Even with all the challenges, we feel she has overcome them -socially and academically. She even went to the 2016 prom with her classmate/friend, Gabe Harris. Victoria had a blast, she loved all the dancing and wearing a pretty dress. She has done very well."
In December 2016, things took a turn for Victoria. "We thought she had a stomach virus. The doctor had mentioned concerns of gall bladder issues but treated her for a virus. Then, she began acting so differently. She was having trouble breathing so my husband called the ambulance. I still didn't think it was as serious as it was. The ER did tests and they did show gall stones. I thought she would have surgery and it would all be over but other things happened. The doctors said they needed to send Victoria to Charlotte. December 21, 2016, she was admitted into the PICU, at Levine's Children's Hospital. Victoria did have an emergency surgery - it led to sepsis which led to Necrotizing Pancreatitis. She then developed ARDS (Acute Respiratory Distress Syndrome). ARDS is something that not many people get and something a lot of people do not survive. Also, since Victoria doesn't have very much of her pancreas left, she now, has diabetes," said Robin.
Fortunately Robin was introduced to Lauren Summey, a native of Lincoln County, who would later become a Facebook friend. "Lauren and a former coworker, Terri Salmon have both experienced ARDS and helped me understand more about it. Having Terri stand by me has been great support. She has really helped me to be more knowledgeable about things Victoria was going through. Victoria's dad, Murphy Webber, is in the medical field and has helped explain things too - things have been so complicated," says Robin.
There has been so many touch-and-go moments. Numerous times Victoria's family was told she may not pull through. "When Victoria became stable enough to have surgery, they removed fluid from her pancreas multiple times and washed her abdominal cavity. After the last one, they rendered Victoria's duodenum has holes. They aren't sure they can be repaired," said Robin.
Victoria remains hospitalized while doctors prepare for the expectancy of the Whipple procedure to reconstruct the duodenum. Robin explains, "The Whipple procedure is kind of like the Gastric bypass except it's for the duodenum. It is a major surgery which will take 5-8 hours. We stay hopeful that she may not need the surgery."
Robin goes on to mention, "Once the drains are removed, they will be more aggressive with therapy. They expect that Victoria is looking at least eight months to walk again. It's going to be extremely hard for her to miss out on the beach this summer and not be able to swim."
Robin is an elementary teacher at Southwest Elementary School and has returned to work. "People have been so helpful, I am so grateful. I have even had fellow teachers offer to share their sick days with me so that I can spend more time with Victoria but since there isn't much of the school year remaining and since I still have time left with my Family Medical Leave Act, I am holding off on accepting. I don't know what may happen in the future even though Victoria is making more and more progress each day. She does sit in a chair, she passed her swallow test, and she is getting stronger," says Robin.
The hospitals have had flu restrictions which prohibit visits by children so Victoria and her five-year-old brother have not seen each other, since she was admitted, nearly four months ago. Robin said "My son has asked lots of questions about his sister. I am excited because the restrictions have been lifted. This weekend, they will be reunited!"
Robin wants to extend her appreciation by saying, "The teachers at Lincolnton High School have been so good; Mrs. Ballard, the assistant principal, has come to visit. My brother, Marty Holbrook, teaches there too so they all communicate about Victoria's current conditions. I could not ask for a better school system for my child. I can't say enough good things about how wonderful they are. I just ask for continued prayers and for everyone to stay hopeful. Without all the encouragement of the community I don't know what I would do. From my staff at Southwest Elementary, my former coworkers at Union, the staff at Childers, Lincoln Middle School EC teachers, they have been so great. You just don't know what it means until you go through it. It's like people just come together. So many pastors, people from Hickory and Gastonia, I mean... I just can't tell you how many people have offered prayers, gifts, food baskets... I just never thought I would be in this situation. It just all means so much. It has been a roller coaster ride. It's nice to know when I go to work she is well cared for by the doctors and nurses at Levine's. My parents visit, frequently, so I know my mama will also make sure Victoria is taken care of. My mom and dad have done so much. I don't know what I would do without my mama. Ronald McDonald housing has been good to us also. As much as I love teaching, I am ready to spend my time with Victoria."
"Every chance I get I am hugging on Victoria and my little boy. I have grown spiritually through all this. I do believe in miracles. I keep hearing, 'It's going to be alright, God's got this.' There is a light at the end of the tunnel and I can't wait till that day," proclaims Robin.