NEW ORLEANS - There are many people who thought graduation day would never come for a special young woman. Some were even prepared to remove her from life support after a frightening illness, but she is now an inspiration to many after defying the odds to graduate this weekend.
On Sunday Christine McGee, 27, will graduate from Our Lady of Holy Cross College. But she took the road less traveled by to earn her mortar board and gown.
"The last thing that I saw was her getting in the ambulance," remembered McGee talking about her girlfriend.
One night when Christine and her girlfriend Twila Beasley were freshman at the University of Arkansas, Christine got an excruciating headache and nausea. EMS was convinced she had taken drugs. Twila insisted the two had never even seen them before.
"It wasn't until we got to the hospital and they ran some tests and they're like, 'Nothing is in her system.' OK, something else is more serious," said Beasley.
Her WebMD search proved to be right - a bleeding brain aneurysm. Christine had a brain condition called arteriovenous malformation or AVM. She was in a coma. Twila was told there was no hope. Then a week later, Christine woke up.
"The next thing was like, 'Well if she does make it, she'll be a vegetable.' It's not, she can't walk. She can't talk, anything like that, and I was like, 'I refuse to believe that too,'" said Beasley.
The two came back home to New Orleans, Christine pushed in therapy to walk, talk, and eat again. One of her biggest obstacles was seeing the loss of her hands and toes, a side effect of medicine that drastically lowered her blood pressure to save her life while in a coma.
"They were covered in bandages, but then once those were removed, then that's when I realized that, okay my hands are really gone, and I'm not getting them back. That was the hardest part," said McGee.
The young woman who was nearly gone, fought hard and years later wanted to finish her education. Tests showed brain damage but not to her IQ and learning ability. Uplifted by parents, doctors, therapists and faith, Christine enrolled at Holy Cross College in Algiers. Twila gave up her education and opened NOLA's Finest Pet Care, pet sitting work to support them. But it was really to have flexibility so she could go to every single class for years to take notes for Christine.
"I just knew in my heart this isn't over. I mean, she has so much to give to the world, you know. This journey isn't over," said Beasley.
Christine's aneurysm is gone. Her degree in legal studies will soon be awarded. Her dream job is to be a G-Man.
"I would love to work with the FBI. That's something that I would love to do," said McGee.
Some of the steps Christine took to earn the right to step across the commencement stage left foot prints of tears, but determination has dried them.
"The journey is just beginning. There are times when you think that it's over you know. Throw in the towel. No, it's just the start," said Beasley through tears.
"Going from when I was just laying in the hospital bed, I never realized I would get to this point," said McGee.
Christine hopes to find a job as a crime investigator.
She also started an on line support group for other survivors of brain bleeds.