JOSHUA, Texas -- A Joshua teen is competing in a national pageant in Florida. Just a year ago, she was bound to a hospital bed.
"This year has been a game changer!" said Haven Watts, 15.
Watts suffers from a rare genetic condition, a form of cystic fibrosis that affects her pancreas. She first started experiencing symptoms of severe abdominal pain when she was just three years old, but doctors couldn't offer her family any answers.
"Not knowing what was wrong with her, that was the hardest part," said her dad, Shane Watts.
The problems continued as she entered school and got worse. Eventually, she was diagnosed, but her quality of life continued to deteriorate. By her middle school years, she could no longer go to class and spent most of her time in hospital rooms, hooked up to IVs. She lost her hair as she was treated for chronic pancreatitis and its effects, all the while maintaining her grades through tutors.
Watts was so ill, by summer 2016, Make-a-Wish granted her a cruise to the Bahamas with her family.
"It came to the point where the GI doctors just said, 'We've got to figure out something for this kiddo," said Sandi Watts, Haven's mom.
Her doctors referred her to the transplant team at Baylor Scott and White in Dallas. They learned that she was a candidate for a cutting-edge procedure to surgically remove her pancreas, extract the islet cells that produce insulin, and place them back into her liver.
"So the liver actually functions as the pancreas and the liver," explained Sandi.
Baylor is one of just a handful of hospitals in the country that perform the procedure, which the Watts said was experimental, particularly for children. In Haven's case, it has given her renewed quality of life.
"I thought it was amazing, because ten years ago, they didn't even know that this was a thing," said Haven. "And now they're saving people's lives with it."
After a recovery period, she was able to return to school. Her parents say she's grown six inches in the past year. She's healthy, and requires far fewer medications than before the transplant. She entered her sophomore year at Joshua High School this fall, and she was nominated for the Junior Miss of Texas pageant, which she won.
"I'm going to say I cried hard," said Watts. "It was a once in a lifetime experience that I'll never forget."
This week, she traveled with her mom and dad to Florida to compete in the Junior Miss of America pageant. The winner will be announced Saturday.
If she wins, she plans to use her platform to help other kids fighting medical conditions. She has her own charity and has supported Make-a-Wish as Junior Miss of Texas.
"She has a lot to offer. She's still here for a reason," said Sandi.
It's not a beauty pageant, Haven insisted, noting that it is scored on factors like academics, community service, personality and poise.
"It's not a beauty pageant whatsoever!" she said.
But there is beauty in her hope for her future.
"I'd rather have boy drama and friend drama and tons and tons of homework than having to worry about if I'm going to wake up tomorrow," Watts said.
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