Lily Castillo was 13 when a blood clot traveled into her spine and forever stole her ability to walk.
Five years, three wheelchairs and lots of physical therapy later, the outgoing teenager rolls through the halls at Phoenix High School confidently.
This is the first in a three-day series on students who have overcome challenges in their lives and are now graduating from high school.
Liliy Castillo has overcome a blood clot in her spine — which forever took her ability to walk — to graduate with her class.
Vela Angelle says she will always remember Feb. 7, 2011, as the day her life made a turn for the better.
Matt Tarazon has battled a kidney disease all his life and nearly gave up last year.
Castillo said a supportive mother, close friends and a positive attitude have kept her moving, and she is excited, but extremely nervous to graduate from high school this Saturday and begin attending college in the fall.
"I just have to stay motivated," said Castillo, now 18. "I've been in hospitals, and I know there are people worse off than me. I think everything happens for a reason."
Castillo was at home on Memorial Day weekend in 2006, and remembers that she was about to start washing the dishes when she felt an intense pain in her back.
"I was crying and yelling," said Castillo, who said the pain came out of nowhere.
When it finally stopped, she couldn't feel her legs.
Castillo was rushed to Rogue Valley Medical Center, then Doernbecher Children's Hospital in Portland.
"I assumed (the feeling) would come back," said Castillo, who later learned that a blood clot had traveled through a hole in her heart and reached her spine, causing sudden, permanent paralysis from the waist down.
Castillo spent six months in the hospital, completing physical therapy rehabilitation before returning to school in the winter of her eighth-grade year.
She said coming into Talent Middle School was nerve-racking, and she worried about how students would react to her.
"I freaked out wondering what my friends would think," said Castillo. "Everyone was shocked and sad."
Castillo said completing her time at Talent Middle School was challenging, mostly because the campus buildings have carpeting and her first wheelchair pulled to the left.
Now an expert rolling around in her third wheelchair, Castillo zips through the tiled hallways at Phoenix High School, where friends call her "Speedy."
"I can push, and I'm so fast," said Castillo. "People have to move out of my way."
Castillo said with her latest wheelchair she mostly grew out of her "wheelie" phase, but she still has fun wheeling through the halls and sometime carrying friends on her lap.
Castillo said her close friends motivate and challenge her, and lift her spirits on tough days. "They tell me to follow my dreams," said Castillo. "When I feel down, they try to bring me up."
Castillo said she is nervous to graduate later this week, mostly because she's worried about losing touch with friends after graduation.
After school ends, she plans to live at home with her mom and older sister, and begin classes at Rogue Community College in the fall.
She said a large part of her decision to stay close to home was to be with her family.
Raised in a single-parent home, Castillo moved from San Jose when she was 10 and grew up translating English to Spanish for her mother.
After a couple more years at home, Castillo hopes she will be ready to live on her own, and transfer to a college outside the Rogue Valley.
After attending a preview day on the hilly campus of Southern Oregon University, she thinks her dream school would be Oregon State University, its campus sitting on flat land in Corvallis.
Castillo hopes to study computer programming and pursue photography as a hobby.
She said that having to use a wheelchair has given her an unexpected confidence and helped her become more talkative. "I was really shy," said Castillo. "Now, I'm outspoken. People notice me."
Reach reporter Teresa Ristow at 541-776-4459 or firstname.lastname@example.org.