Your typical teenager, Natalee Olivarez, enjoyed doing typical teenager things.
An all-star basketball player and an avid track and cross country runner, Natalee dedicated her life to playing sports.
"This one was in 2010, we got 1st place," said Natalee holding up one of her many medals.
"That was going to pay for her college, that's how she was going do it," said Natalee's mother Kendra. "We already had people thinking and looking and watching her and that's what we were going to do. And on that afternoon, on that July 31st, God had a different plan."
That fateful day nearly three years ago, Natalee was playing a basketball game...something she's done countless times before. But this particular game shattered her hopes, her dreams, and her life.
"I went to a basketball camp and my foot got stepped on and everything just stopped," Natalee said.
But it wasn't your average sports-related injury. It didn't swell up, nothing stood out, but the pain was horrendous.
"It didn't look bruised or red or anything and then the pain just was excruciating. So we figured that it was something that we couldn't see," said Kendra.
After months of testing, doctors diagnosed Natalee with reflex sympathetic dystrophy (RSD), a chronic pain disease. Her sympathetic nerve was damaged. And for Natalee, that injured nerve tells her brain she's in constant excruciating pain.
"Imagine the worst pain you've ever felt in your life. And imagine having that 24/7 for weeks or months on end," said Dr. Miles Day, a pain medicine specialist at University Medical Center.
Natalee's condition is rare and scientists are stumped as to why. But for some patients, like Natalee, treatments just don't work well.
"The first couple of times it worked really well. One of the times it didn't seem to work as well and I can't tell you why," Dr. Day said.
The disease is mysterious, and there is no cure.
"It affects her ability to do school work, just from reading or writing, it causes her hands to shake real bad," Kendra said.
Forced into homeschooling, Natalee has missed out on some of high school's greatest highlights.
"It's a life-changing thing. Just like cancer is a life-changing thing for folks. Chronic pain can be the same thing," Dr. Day said.
But Dr. Day says where there's a will there's a way. So now, at 16 years old, Natalee hides her suffering and fights this agonizing disease.
"I don't know where we would be without the help of UMC and Dr. Day and his fellows," Kendra said.
"I've always told my mom that if I can help one person through all this, then it will all be worth it," Natalee said.
So, with Sudan's High School prom on the way, Natalee's older brother Matthew got an idea.
"The last time I was in the hospital, he told my mom, ‘What if she never gets the chance to go to prom?' Because I am homeschooled. And so it's his senior year and he's taking me to his senior prom," Natalee said.
Matthew made his sister's smile a little bigger that day, her eyes a little brighter, as she fought through the pain to enjoy herself and dance the night away.
"She is a miracle. She's a miracle every day. That she can get out of bed and be here today, that's a miracle," Kendra said.
"It's an amazing hospital," Natalee said. "Just the people that work here and the nurses and they just help encourage you so much."
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