High school graduation is a proud moment in any person’s life. It represents academic achievement, an obstacle overcome, and the beginning of a new stage in life.
For three Lake Highlands High School graduates, it’s much more than that. When they walk the stage, it will mark a victory over physical limitations and societal prejudices.
Lisa Lawrence is one of those go-getters who shows up repeatedly in the yearbook as a member of multiple clubs and committees, as well as the historian on the student council. As if that isn’t enough, the 18-year-old works 20 hours a week while keeping up a high grade point average.
In addition to all of these academic and public activities, there is something about her that few people know and that makes her school involvement and positive attitude all the more remarkable.
Lawrence has suffered from vitamin D resistant rickets since she was 4. It is a kind of brittle bone disease resulting from the body’s inability to absorb calcium into the bones. She was diagnosed at Children’s Medical Center and referred to Scottish Rite Hospital, where she has been in and out of treatment ever since.
“It’s an unknown fact just because I don’t really talk about it. In addition to checkups, if they find something wrong, they have to go in for surgery sometimes. I’ve had eight or nine surgeries since I was 4 years old. I think I’ve broken six bones or the same bones multiple times.”
Her latest surgery was the summer before her junior year to correct a bowed leg. The surgeons had to break the bone to straighten it. She already had a metal plate in her leg, so they had to bend and reshape that as well.
She has missed a lot of school due to surgeries over the years, but she never gave up.
“Sometimes I thought this is not worth it and being taunted made it feel like: What’s the point? I guess my motivation partly came from the simple fact that I knew it wouldn’t last forever, that it was just a small portion of my life. I just put faith in God and know that it’s not the end of the world.”
Her condition has improved. She no longer fears a serious injury from a simple fall.
She says graduation has been a long time coming, and she plans on majoring a public relations at Texas A&M-Commerce.
Her career goal is to give back to the hospital that gave her the chance to live a normal life, in spite of her disability.
“I feel like they’ve helped me so much over the years I could never pay them back enough. Had I been at any other hospital, I would be severely in debt. I believe in the product.”
Eric Johnson’s medical condition has had a profound effect on his life and, like Lawrence, promises to figure prominently in his career choice.
Johnson wants to be a physician. He already has been accepted to Rice University and has an intense interest in anatomy and biology.
“That probably stems from losing an eye. I want to be a doctor, and that’s probably stems from seeing so many doctors about my eye.”
When he was just 2 years old, he was diagnosed with a form of cancer called medulla epithelioma.
As a result, he must obtain a new prosthesis every couple of years. Contrary to popular belief – a belief Johnson says was perpetuated by a scene in the movie, “Pirates of the Caribbean” – the prosthesis is not a big ball in his eye socket.
“The implant is marble shaped. The prosthesis is like a bowl around the marble. I took my eye out for a class one time and everyone was disappointed that it wasn’t like in the movie.”
Having only one eye makes seemingly easy tasks more difficult for Johnson because his depth perception isn’t very good. As a trumpet player in the marching band, he says having only half of the normal field of vision presents its own problems and solutions.
“Because of that, when marching I have to have my step sizes down. I got really good at hitting my step sizes consistently because I couldn’t use other band members as a reference.”
Likewise, he was able to overcome his disability when he turned 16 and wanted a driver’s license.
“There have been some times when I thought one eye would really be a problem. Like getting a driver’s license. I was really proud that I was able to start driving. I haven’t let it stop me.”
Katie Klammer says her physical challenge is of a different sort.
“The big news about me is that I am Lake Highlands’ only girl wrestler. And this year, I got first at UIL state competition.”
That first place finish did not come easy, however. Even though there is a boys’ team and a girls’ team at Lake Highlands, Klammer was the only female who signed up her last three years there. As a result, she had to wrestle boys for practice, an activity that required special permission from the district and caused a firestorm on the mat and in the stands.
“The boys were like, ‘You need to quit. This is a guys’ sport.’ I’ve had parents and coaches come up to me and say, ‘Girls shouldn’t be wrestling.’ I’ve had to overcome people attacking me, saying I can’t do it. You’re a girl.”
She got into wrestling through her brother, Karl, who is two years older and wrestled for three years at Lake Highlands. During his senior year and Klammer’s freshman year, a senior girl wrestler needed a practice partner. Karl volunteered his sister. A wrestler was born.
But wrestling isn’t the only thing at which she has excelled over the years. She finished her Gold Award project to achieve the highest rank possible in the Girl Scouts.
“That and my win at state came within two weeks of each other, which was really exciting.”
Both achievements involved her brother. He was a U.S. Marine serving in Fallujah, Iraq, at the time. For her Gold Award, she had a toiletry drive for her brother’s unit of about 25 men and women.
“I had to balance the fear of my brother being hurt, plus wrestling, plus graduation and everything had to balance out. But it was so hard because he was always on my mind.”
She plans to attend Converse, an all woman’s college in South Carolina, where she wants to major in biology or psychology.
“I want to be a child psychiatrist because I love working with children. This summer I’m going to live in Germany as an au pair.”