NEW ORLEANS (WVUE) - In 2015, FOX 8 highlighted a Metairie girl whom doctors said wouldn’t live through the night at birth. Today, the 18-year-old is about to begin a new journey.
We met Lauran Mayeaux four years ago.
“I don’t really think anything is wrong with me,” she said.
She was a busy eighth-grader with things to do and a bit of a transportation problem as the family’s wheelchair-accessible van had broken down and cost tens of thousands of dollars to fix.
After we highlighted the family’s fundraising efforts, donations for a new van poured in, but Tom and Gayle Benson pushed them over the finish line much faster than expected, surprising the Mayeauxs with brand new accessible wheels.
Back then, Lauran was almost speechless saying, “Oh I don’t even know. Thank you so much. They are fabulous. Everybody has just been so fabulous lately.”
The van has helped keep the on-the-go girl going right through high school to graduation.
“That’s been the most significant change, that I watched this child turn into a young woman,” said her dad, Laurance Mayeaux.
Lauran is one of the students graduating in Haynes Academy's first senior class.
“Like everybody is like, ‘Ohhh, I’m so sad we’re graduating.’ And I’m just like, ‘It’s ok,’” Lauran said.
“She’s not a baby no more," said her mother, Melissa. "That’s probably the hardest thing for me - letting go.”
We talked with Lauran and her family as she counted down those last few days.
“It hasn’t really hit me that Friday is my last day," Lauran said. "I’m going to miss high school, honestly.”
She is ready for change.
“I’m treating college, I guess, as a transition to real life I guess in terms of moving out and being on my own,” Lauran said.
The graduate has a full ride to Loyola University in the fall. She's a little apprehensive, but excited for the challenge.
“I feel like every college student is," she said. "...To, you know, like branch out and meet new people and like, you know, study new things and have new teachers. Overall I’m really excited.”
The rare disorder amyoplasia congenita with arthrogyposis means Lauran was born with no muscle below her neck. But getting around in a motorized wheelchair with her chin doesn’t really make a difference to her.
“There’s not anything, I don’t know, wrong, I guess, with me. I just can’t move,” she said.
That outlook hasn’t changed since we first met, and while she isn’t defined by her disability, it is a motivation in her future career goals as an advocate for the disabled.
“To me and everybody I know, I’m completely normal, so I guess just want strangers to know that, too," she said. "There’s like a lot of stigmas. Like, ‘Oh, a disabled person is out of their house - good job!’ But I’m just out of my house.”
She knows the comments are well-meaning.
“There are people that come up to you and pray over you. It’s, like, weird,” she said.
She’s appreciative of the prayers but wants a platform to help the able-bodied focus more on accessibility and save some of the sympathy.
“It’s not like, ‘Oh my God, you can’t move, that’s so sad, I’m sorry.’ And I’m like, ‘It’s fine.’ I don’t know. I like being disabled, I guess. I think it’s good. You can’t miss something you never had. I mean, for me it opens a lot of doors,” Lauran said.
She’s already serving on the regional advisory committee for the Jefferson Parish Human Services Authority.
“I think it’s helpful to have someone that’s actually disabled on the committee, that can, I guess, make decisions and tell the board what disabled people need,” she said.
She shared the difficulty just learning about and qualifying for the available services with board members.
“A lot of people don’t know what they offer, and it would be helpful for people to know that and communicate that with other people and other families,” she said.
She's also speaking out about how disabilities are viewed in books and through the camera lens.
“So whenever there (are) disabled people in movies and TV shows and stuff, they are always seen as in a negative light, and like, this person is sick and it’s a tragedy,” she said. “I think people just have to have a different outlook on disabilities, because I think it seems like, ‘Oh my, gosh, you must be so depressed,’ and like, really, no, not at all. I can’t really speak for other disabled people, but for me that’s not how it is.”
She plans to use a major in marketing and a minor in film to help her learn the best ways to spread that message. The future influencer is already dabbling with a YouTube channel.
“I think it’s funny when I say things that people don’t expect me to say,” she said.
Her posts are not necessarily politically correct.
“Some people might find what I say offensive, but that’s just my humor,” Lauran said. “If I say a joke, they’ll be like ‘Oh my gosh!’ No. It’s funny you can laugh.”
From her parents’ perspective, it’s exactly what they hoped for in their sassy 18-year-old.
“I am a little nervous," Melissa said. "As Lauran has aged, she’s been a little bit rebellious. There’s been times when we haven’t really gone where we’ve been telling mom we were supposed to be, and we’ve gotten caught - very typical teenager. However, it is expected, and I like to see that she pushes those boundaries, as horrible as that might sound. I do kind of appreciate that she does.”
“You’ve got to speak up to be heard," Laurance said. "You’ve got one thing that you can do and that’s speak, so use your mouth. She’s got no problem with that.”
For Laurance and Mellissa Mayeaux, what seemed impossible when Lauren was born is now a reality they saw coming within the first few years of her life.
“I think for the first half of her life, it’s kind of like we almost were expecting sickness, expecting tragedy, expecting death...expecting...and we lived that way, and it wasn’t the greatest,” Melissa said.
As Lauran continued to pass unexpected milestones, Melisssa said they were able to relax.
“Eventually it was, she’s OK, and when she’s not OK, she’s OK, and she’s just always OK. And we stopped living in what they were telling us, ‘Oh she’s not going to make it.’ We just started living,” Melissa said.
“Did I think I’d see her graduate high school then? No. By the time she was a couple of years old, never a doubt,” Laurance said.
In typical Lauran fashion, independence is what she wants most.
“Honestly earning my own money and being able to work," she said. "Nobody is excited to work, but I’m excited to have a job and a career.”
She’s ready to really grow up like the thousands of others graduating this year.
“Sorry, not that sorry. Honestly - no offense family. I think a lot of it is me. I’ve got to get out. Not like I got to get away from them, but I got to get out and be my own person," Lauren said. "I got to learn how to do life on my own.”
Before heading off to Loyola, Lauran doesn’t mind being a kid a bit longer. She and her family will be treated to a week-long trip to Orlando through the Kidd’s Kids Foundation. She’s looking forward to her first trip to Disney World and seeing Harry Potter World at Universal.