Lisa Davidson walked down the aisle at this year's Bucks County Community College commencement with the why-me question that has long haunted her in absentia.
The sad query had been pushed further and further away in stages - by the double-organ transplant, the discovery of a center for the blind, and the 3.8 GPA.
"I feel really good. I feel like I've accomplished a step in the right direction," Davidson said.
The Warminster graduate's road to neon blue cap-and-gown was a series of giant steps over debilitating illness. When the picture was bleakest, the why-me question was loudest, but not loud enough to get in Davidson's way.
At the age of 40, after battling severe diabetes that not only took her eyesight, but wreaked medical havoc inside her body, Davidson has earned an associate's degree in journalism from Bucks County Community College. She will enter Temple University in the fall in a giant step toward a career in magazine writing.
"I don't want any pity or anything. I'm just glad to be here," Davidson said. "And believe me, I'm not wasting any time."
Davidson was surrounded by a group of jubilant family and friends who had witnessed her triumph over a series of health scares whose roots go back to Davidson's teenage years.
At 13, she was diagnosed with juvenile diabetes. The early years consisted of figuring out how to live with the condition. In between, there were destructive friendships and helping her divorced mother take care of the household and her little brother.
Davidson dropped out of William Tennent High School in Warminster and took assorted dead-end jobs. She got married and later earned her GED. She secured a post at a local electronics company and, while there, her eyesight began to deteriorate.
Davidson's life then became a series of medical crises. Her kidneys failed. There was nerve damage, and digestive and pulmonary problems. She was on dialysis and shrunk to 87 pounds. She couldn't work. Davidson went into a nursing home because her then-husband, Robert Davidson, was unable to work and care for her full-time.
"I begged my best friend to get me out of there," Davidson said. Heather Gravelle, Davidson's friend of 26 years, set up a hospital bed in her living room and brought Davidson home. While there, Davidson had a stroke.
"After the stroke, the lights went out," Davidson said referring to her eyesight.
"I was trying to understand. What did I do to deserve it?" Davidson said. "I think I'm a fairly decent person. We all make mistakes, but it's not like I kicked any puppies or stepped on baby chicks . . . I saw a psychologist, but it stayed on my mind."
Davidson's outlook began to improve when she started spending time at the Bucks County Association for the Blind in Newtown.
"She was very sick and frail, and she couldn't come in that often because she was in and out of the hospital," said Shelley Ketterer, operations manager at the association. "She was fragile emotionally and physically, very quiet and shy."
The center helped Davidson with support groups and programming. Mentor Alvin Blazik helped her with computers. Her doctors put her on the list for a kidney and pancreas transplant. She got the call that the organs were available on Dec. 12, 1998.
"It was little after midnight," Davidson said. "Oh my God . . . I cried."
Slowly her heath began to improve. She no longer needed dialysis. She began occupational therapy and got her guide dog, Eagle. And she began writing - a talent she had loved as a youngster.
Despite losing her sight, Davidson could still write. In fact, she created a newsletter for the clients of the association called
"I used to tell Lisa that she gives a lot of credit to the agency, but all we did was give her the help," said Elaine Welch, former executive director and CEO of the Bucks County Association for the Blind. "All the good things that are happening in her life, she made happen."
In 2004, Davidson entered Bucks County Community College as a journalism student. She was petrified, but her ordeal had made her hungry to "learn more."
She advocated for herself without asking for special consideration. She traveled by Paratransit, visited professors and did homework during hospital stays. She began writing obituaries for an area newspaper.
"She didn't see any reason why [pursuing a degree] couldn't work," said Marie Stevens Cooper, director of disability services at the college. "She was as prepared as we hope any student would be."
And, she's funny - often as a strategy.
"You know," Davidson said, "People aren't always so comfortable around blind people."
Before the graduation, she stood in line with Eagle waiting to march in. The dog wore a doggie graduation cap that kept slipping to the side. "He's graduating too," Davidson said. "We did this together."
Her family kept saying how proud they were of her - her mother, her mother's best friend, her brothers, her best friend, her boyfriend, her ex-husband.
"I've seen what I can get through," Davidson said. "And that's keeping me brave enough to go on and see what else I can do."