Nothing can slow the success of Stephens
Don’t let her size and sometimes quiet nature fool you. Dothan resident and Rehobeth High School senior Whitney Stephens is a fighter.
Stephens has never let any obstacles hold her back, including 27 surgeries and 50 overall procedures. Through it all, she pushed forward and remained an honor student.
In December of 2018, Stephens was recognized as the Alabama Department of Rehabilitation Services and Alabama Governor’s Committee on Employment of People with Disabilities “Student of the Year.” It was yet another victory in a journey that has seen continued success for the 17-year-old.
For many years, Whitney’s mother Tina was told she could not have children. It came as a surprise years later when she discovered she was five months pregnant and again when Whitney arrived five weeks early.
The chances of Whitney surviving were slim. She spent her first days in intensive care in Birmingham where doctors learned she had a hole in her heart, deformed ribs, one kidney, scoliosis, and other health issues. Whitney had her first heart surgery at 3 months old, eventually received three metal plates in her right knee, and died on the operating table during a scoliosis surgery at age 12 before doctors revived her. She spent six weeks in intensive care in St. Louis following that setback.
During this time, her muscles withered, and she had to learn to write, walk, and perform other daily duties.
Through these early challenges, Children’s Rehabilitation Service staff member Candi Mitchell, who is now the CRS director for the Dothan office, became a part of the family’s life.
“Candi followed us for a long time,” Tina said. “She helped us to the point that (Whitney’s) weight was stable, and she was off the feeding tube.”
The road to recovery was long, and Tina said it took a tremendous toll on Whitney both mentally and physically.
For the next two years Whitney was homeschooled, but by the time her freshman year rolled around she was ready to rejoin her old classmates at Rehobeth High School.
As she became more comfortable, Whitney transformed from a shy girl who always seemed to be looking down to a bubbly teen with unlimited potential. This is also when she connected with ADRS once again through Vocational Rehabilitation Service Counselor Kristie Grammer.
Grammer suggested that Whitney participate in the CONNECTIONS program, which inspired her to seek a part-time job. She recently celebrated her one-year employment anniversary at McDonald’s.
Whitney participated in the ADRS assisted driver program and obtained her license shortly after her 16th birthday. She said she was nervous about driving at first but wowed the instructors with her skills. She needed only one week in the program to become fully prepared for her test.
“They were really impressed,” she said. “(One of the instructors) told me he was really surprised and that I could pass my driver’s test already.”
Tina said family members knew that Whitney was ready to hit the road, but she feels the clinic gave her the confidence to push forward.
“I think if she had not done that week with them she would not have had the courage to go,” she said.
The CONNECTIONS program offered a similar experience. Whitney said she was nervous at first but met lots of nice people and is still in contact with several friends.
The social skills she developed through CONNECTIONS helped tremendously with her job. The once shy girl said interacting with the customers has become her favorite part of the work day.
“I have even built relationships with them, because they all know me now,” she said. “When I see them outside of work, they will even ask me why I’m not at McDonald’s. They all like me there, and I love working. I love it there.”
Watching Whitney blossom has been a joy for Grammer. She said it is great to see her growing into an ambitious young lady with goals for her future.
“Whitney has it all together and has a very strong work ethic,” she said. “She knows what she wants, and she is going to work hard to get it.”
After graduating May 24, Whitney plans to attend Wallace State Community College before transferring to a four-year school to earn a degree in accounting.