Raleigh teen with multiple serious illnesses hopes to attend full year of school for the first time

North Carolina

RALEIGH, N.C. (WNCN) — In many ways, Maylonnie Downey is a pretty typical teenager. She likes watching videos online and talking to her friends, but she also deals with a list of conditions most teens never have to worry about.

“I have cystic fibrosis, sickle cell, chronic asthma, and failure to thrive, and also diabetes,” the 15-year-old explained.

“She’s been sick all her life,” said her mom.

Leigh Downey remembers the pain and fear after her little girl was diagnosed with multiple serious illnesses.

“The sleepless nights that I stayed up with her, just holding her,” she recalled. “Sometimes just thinking about it, I just cry.”

Maylonnie spent much of her childhood in the hospital.

“It was very hard because I couldn’t go to school like normal kids,” she said.

“Technically, she’s never really went to school the whole entire year since she’s been born,” her mom added.

Maylonnie’s health has improved, but much of her life still revolves around breathing treatments, tube feedings, doctors’ appointments, and blood transfusions.

“She comes up to me sometimes and she’ll say, ‘Mommy, I just want to be normal.’ That’s hard; I mean what do you tell her?” said Leigh Downey. “I don’t want her to see me cry because when I cry, she cries.”

Still, people who know Maylonnie well, say it’s hard to feel sad when she’s around.

UNC pediatric pulmonologist Dr. Ceila Loughlin has been Maylonnie’s doctor for years.

“Even through all of this, she still got her spunky spirit,” said Loughlin, who has watched Maylonnie thrive, despite her diagnoses. She described her as “So strong and amazing.”

This summer Maylonnie has reason to celebrate. Now that she’s had her COVID-19 vaccine, she hopes to go to school in person for the whole year.

She’ll be in 10th grade at Wakefield High School and looks forward to meeting new friends and just finding out what high school is like.

Her mom is a little nervous, but she’s also extremely proud.

“She is my hero,” said Leigh Downey. “To look at her, she makes me strong.”

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