Atwater High School students graduating top of her class despite missing school due to illness

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Catrina Velarde said she led an active life until she started suffering bad stomach pains and fatigue in the 8th grade. (KFSN)

Catrina Velarde, 18, looks like any other healthy high school senior preparing to walk at her high school's graduation this week, but she did not have the experience most students have.

"My entire outlook on life changed, because I knew I'd have to battle this illness the rest of my life."

Velarde said she led an active life until she started suffering bad stomach pains and fatigue in the 8th grade.

"I went to Valley Children's Hospital and I had a colonoscopy and an endoscopy and they diagnosed me with Ulcerative Colitis there."

Velarde says she dropped down to 72 pounds and eventually had to have part of her large intestine and colon removed in a series of three surgeries, causing her to miss most of her sophomore year and part of her junior year.

"I was hospitalized most of the time, and I was getting treatments and I started getting more sick."

Velarde who was once first in her class, dropped to 11th her junior year. Even through her home studies and having to teach herself from home she managed to get herself back to first after going back to school her junior year with a colostomy bag and feeding tube. The tennis team co-captain even went back to playing tennis as their number one singles player.

Velarde's science teacher, Jimmy Brewer, said he has been teaching for 20 years and has not ever seen determination like he does in Velarde.

"How somebody has gone through what they've gone through and performed at a high level like she has, I don't think there's anyone else who could have done that in the senior class."

The senior said through the support of her family, teachers, and peers, Velarde has been able to succeed through what she calls the most difficult time in her life. Now, she said she wants to go to medical school to become a pediatric surgeon to go back to Valley Children's Hospital so she can care for and inspire patients the way her doctors there inspired her.

"Have faith and to just never give up because life is valuable and its worth fighting for."

Velarde said she was accepted to multiple UC schools but will be attending UCLA in the fall.
Related Topics:
educationhigh schoolillnessmerced countygraduationAtwater
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