Top high school students college bound despite cancer battle

Top students beat the odds before college

CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- Two top students in the Charlotte area are among the many getting ready to go to college. But there was a time when doctors weren't sure either would even be able to stay in high school.

Tables were piled high with surprise gifts for Sarah Crawley, the valedictorian of her class, and Gideon Kapange, a track star and salutatorian of his class.

Impressive, yes. In this case, more like amazing.

"It was just really amazing that I actually got it even though I had been in the hospital," Sarah says.

Gideon adds, "It's an exciting time just thinking about going to college. It's something that during treatment seemed so far away or not possible."

Both teens spent much of their high school years in and out of Hemby Children's hospital fighting cancer.

"You know all of your friends, they get to go out and have full lives and graduate. You're not sure if you're going to get to. And all of your girlfriends have hair and you're just sitting there thinking you want to be as beautiful as them and you can't because you don't have hair," Crawley said.

During the toughest times, Crawley and Kapange both say their schoolwork kept them motivated.

"I didn't want to lose sight of that, I didn't want this treatment to hold me back," Kapange said.

Now they are both days away from going to college and reuniting with some of the doctors that cared for them.

And someone else by the name of Emily Ratliff. Ratliff is the leader of an organization called Claire's Army. She is also the woman behind the surprise gifts.

Ratliff is the mother of a fellow cancer patient who Crawley bonded with in the hospital. Claire Ratliff, just 2-years-old, didn't make it. Now Ratliff runs Claire's Army, the organization named for her daughter.

"I can't imagine the burden Sarah has feeling like she was the one spared, but we're thankful for that and as much as we wish all of the girls were here, we celebrate she is here and celebrate her life," Ratliff said.

Crawley and Kapange both say they learned perhaps the most important life lessons away from the classroom.

"You want to try to do your best and live your life while you can and take as many chances as you can because even if you do make it through it, life is still way too short to waste," Crawley said.


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