ADA, Minn. — There are a lot of great stories about amazing high school seniors from across the region who will be walking across the stage to get diplomas in the coming days.
But in Ada, one graduate has quite the story to tell about perseverance after a start in life that made medical history for a team of doctors performing a new type of surgery.
Today, Claire Ann Leiseth has one of those country girl dream lives, with horses and growing up as a leader in 4-H. But her life the way her life started was far from normal.
Before her birth, doctors diagnosed Leiseth with spina bifida — also called a split spine. Doctors thought she would spend her life with a crippling disability.
"We were told she would have a life not worth living," said Ramona Leiseth, Claire's mother. "The first person I ran into after leaving the doctor's office said go home and pray. And that is exactly what we did; we turned it over to God."
Around the same time, a team of specialists in Philadelphia was just beginning to do the pioneering procedure of in utero surgery, repairing the spine early, then allowing the baby to mature to term. It was risky and experimental, but for Claire, it worked.
Today, Leiseth has no signs of paralysis. She has some muscle weakness, preventing her from taking part in contact sports.
"But I am able to ride horse, so that's truly what matters to me . . . I have grown up on a ranch with horses and that is my No. 1," Leiseth said. "Kids in school go to sports; I go to horses."
Now about to graduate from Ada-Borup High School, Leiseth is getting ready to head to North Dakota State University to study agriculture communications.
"Like the same as any father, you just have to let them grow up and figure it out, I guess," her father, Alan Leiseth, said when asked how he felt about her daughter leaving home.
Leiseth, an active teenager now bound for NDSU, has defied some incredible odds and she has shared her story with others.
"It is crazy because sometimes I feel I have a purpose to serve," she said. "I am here as a miracle."