THE FLARE FRIDAY, APRIL 28, 2017
F E AT U R E
Unbreakable: faith and food Culinary student pursues dream following kidney transplant Lisa Harris Staff Writer
he little girl sitting in the school nurse’s station was not ready for the ambulance that was about to pick her up that day. At 11 years old Vanessa Powell’s mom and dad had noticed she was getting thinner and was always extremely tired. After a doctor visit and some blood work it was determined that she had type one juvenile diabetes. A blood sugar over 200 was considered bad and that day in the nurse’s station it was reading at 600. Vanessa recalls the nurse saying, “I’m surprised you’re still standing.” The baby of the family, Powell struggled to understand; why her? None of her siblings had health issues. As a Longview native, growing up in a big family, there was always food. Her mother fixed healthy foods, and hardly ever fried. But at Christmas time she was the “Queen of the tea and pound cakes” Powell recalled. Powell learned to give herself shots (usually administered in the arm or leg and eventually in the stomach) by practicing on an orange. Learning to regulate her blood sugar, especially while playing sports wasn’t easy. She fainted often and was regularly sent to the hospital. Powell went from having high blood sugar to low blood sugar and became labeled “a brittle diabetic.” Powell didn’t find stability in her diabetes until after she had her first daughter, at the age of 15. She continued exercising and eating healthy while working in several different food establishments over the next ten years. The diabetes was under control for the most part, but a fainting spell from low blood sugar landed her in the hospital once again. Two life game changers were on the horizon that day. The doctors came in the room to inform Vanessa that she was pregnant again, which
was a surprise to her and her now husband. The pregnancy news was still fresh in their minds a few days later when she received the news her kidneys were failing due to the diabetes and she could die. Without hemodialysis to cleanse the kidneys regularly, they would shut down. The pregnancy posed a
The surgery and recovery went well and to this day she is still in shock. “The hardest part was breaking the habit of checking my blood sugar,” she said. A lifetime of anti-rejection pills and a steroid is a small price to pay for life; and she is happy to take them. With a passion for food there was no doubt Vanessa
fearing woman” major stress on her body’s failing kidneys. She was bedridden at Baylor Medical for three months. Determined to get back on track, she maintained her exercise and healthy eating habits enabling her kidneys to last another ten years. After her second daughter was born, she started hemodialysis for three months until doctors discovered her veins were too small, to continue. She was put on a nightly Peritoneal dialysis lasting nearly two years. On Christmas Day 2014 her kidneys stopped working properly. She let her daughters have a normal Christmas morning by waiting until the next day to go to the hospital. It was time to get on the transplant list. “I’m a God-fearing woman, was raised in a church” Powell said. That day she gave it to God and said “Let Your will be done.” Two months and two days after officially being on the transplant list, she received the call while shopping in Walmart. She left the buggy full of groceries behind, and they headed out. A young man killed by a drunk driver was a match. In March 2014 at age 39 Powell received a complete kidney and pancreas transplant.
wanted to get a degree in culinary arts she made several attempts to begin, only for her health to get in the way. The journey was about to begin when she was re-acquainted with Julee Rachels, the founder of the non-profit business, Heartisans Marketplace. Heartisans is centered around God, a place “where love serves and giving back is priority.” Volunteers manufacture around 75 percent of items sold in the store, with all profits going to the women in the community who have been out of the workforce or struggling to find a place in the workforce. “Heartisans was and is great! That place is so special to me” she said. Vanessa completed the three-month program at Heartisans last year. “We are so very proud of Vanessa and all she is accomplishing in her life; she is an inspiration to all of us as she excels in all she does,” Rachels said. Powell is about to complete her first year with Chef Kat Jackson in KC’s culinary arts department. She is looking forward to her sophomore restaurant project, especially since Southern soul food classic with a twist will be on the menu.
Lisa Harris / THE FLARE
Vanessa Powell sits in the KC Culinary Arts Kitchen in Longview High School. After being given a second chance at life, she is pursuing her dream to someday own a non-traditional food truck. On the road to accomplishing her dreams, Powell remains humble. “I was so thankful” Vanessa said. Holding down a fulltime job, being a full-time student and maintaining a family life is hard work. She knows all too well that without her family she wouldn’t have this second
chance at life. “Family is my rock,” she said. For Vanessa, support and love is priceless. Rather than being a culinary chef at a five-star restaurant or maybe a little deli on the corner, Vanessa wants to own a food truck. But not a traditional food truck, she said. Keeping the
details secret, she smiled and said, “I don’t want to give it away: can’t have anyone stealing my idea.” One thing is certain — she will never have to worry about what she eats anymore. As her struggle with diabetes has ended, she considers herself a living testimony. “God is good” Powell said.
Sharp-shooter strives for success on, off court
escribed as being “level-headed” and “Never too high or never too low” by Lady Ranger coach Anna Nimz, Richelle Velez is held in high regard because of her effort, humility and her leadership. The Brazoswood freshman quickly became one of the best sharp shooters in KC history when she set two school records for threepointers within a month of each other this spring. Velez connected on eight against Louisiana College on Feb. 8, then nine against Angelina College on March 1. Of Velez’s three siblings (two older sisters and a younger brother), she is the only one involved in sports, picking up the basketball at five years old. “My family members are all musically talented, but it was never really my thing,” Velez said. “I used to play with the guys in my neighborhood when I was little. It was funny because they were all scared of me,” she said. “I do like to play piano though and I like to sing. It might be bad, but I don’t care.” Velez attended Brazoswood High School where she was named to first team alldistrict her senior year.
Along with all-district, Velez received two previous offers from Sul Ross State and McNeese State before deciding on KC. “I feel really blessed to have been given an offer. I didn’t expect it. I didn’t even know Coach (Mike) Brown was there to watch me play,” she said. “I picked Kilgore because they were the first school to offer me to a full scholarship.” The chance to go to college was not the only thing that Velez gained from that night on the court. She also got a chance to spend more time with her mother, who had been battling cancer. “December 28, 2015 was the best day of my life,” Velez said. “My whole family was there and it was an emotional moment. My mom had called me and all of my siblings. She was crying, so at first I thought it had gotten worse and that it was bad news, but she told us that she had had a CAT scan and that she didn’t have cancer anymore. That motivated me and inspired me to play harder because she got through it,” Velez recalled She says her relationship with her mother is everything to her.
Lisa Harris / THE FLARE
Richelle Velez holds the KC record for three-pointers. The player beat her own record within a month of each other this spring. “It’s more than a mother and a daughter,” Velez said. “She’s my best friend and everything goes back to her. I talk to her every night and I have to pray with her before every game. She’s a tough woman and her faith has helped me. Despite everything she went through, she stayed strong and it allowed me to have faith in God too.” Along with prayer, Velez has developed a signature routine before every game. “I am very superstitious,” she said. “I eat Subway and drink a root beer. It’s my key to being able to make three
“I am very superstitious. I eat Subway and drink a root beer. It’s my key to being able to make three pointers.” pointers.” Velez’s method might not be as off as it sounds because she went on to start 25 out of 26 games, averaging 14.8 points for the season and a total of 107 three-pointers, which is fourth in the nation. “If I make one shot, I feel
like I can make them all. I don’t let injuries stop me.” Velez said. “Even through success, I try to stay humble. If you work hard and stay humble, God will bless you.” Off the court, Velez is a Criminal Justice major and aspires to be a detective or a private investigator. She
aims to attend school closer to home. “I want to attend Sam Houston because they have the best criminal justice system in the state.” she said. “I’ve always enjoyed critical thinking and watching things like CSI and detective shows. I think that’s also why I love math; I like solving puzzles.” —by Warren Thomas and Kaitlin Mitchell
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