HEMET, California -- Like most kids packing up for college, Isabel Michel is anxious.
"I'm a little nervous because I've never been that far from home," said the 18-year-old from Hemet, California. "I think I'm going to miss the food the most because nothing compares to my mom's cooking. And it's a little scary to think that I might have forgotten something essential."
But if anyone can adjust to college life at one of the country's top universities, then perhaps it's the valedictorian from West Valley High School.
Especially given what happened on Thanksgiving in 2002.
"From being a really happy Thanksgiving morning, it became a nightmare," said her father Salvador Michel.
Isabel was three years old. Her father said she was putting together a puzzle on the living room table when one of the pieces fell to the floor. Isabel went down to retrieve it and froze.
"She just had a blank stare," said Isabel's father. "I knew there was something wrong. She wasn't moving her eyes, her head. Nothing."
Salvador Michel said doctors first thought it was an epileptic seizure. She was discharged from the hospital but was readmitted a few days later after having another episode while at church.
Michel said his daughter was suffering from an unknown progressive nervous system disorder.
"Her body was already starting to decay," he said.
The girl fell into a coma for two days. She later stopped eating and drinking. Michel said doctors told him they doubted she would survive, and even if she did they feared she would be permanently disabled.
"They told me, 'She's in really bad shape. If she doesn't start responding, there's a possibility she might pass.'"
But then one morning, there was hope with the simplest of requests made by the 3-year-old girl.
"She asked for water," said Michel.
From there, she slowly started making progress. After years of physical therapy and speech therapy, Michel said his daughter continues to defy the odds. Not only did she graduate top in her class, but was accepted at one of the most respected universities in the nation.
"I never ever in my wildest dreams ever thought she would make it to Stanford," said the proud father.
Michel said he was worried about how to pay for it. They estimated the total yearly cost at $72,000. "I thought there was no chance, but I never wanted to tell her," he said.
But unbeknownst to him, his daughter was about to beat that challenge as well. She applied for a $100,000 Ronald McDonald House scholarship, and she was one of four people across the country to earn it. Michel said between the scholarship and financial aid, all of her studies will be paid for.
"That was the moment that I realized Stanford is actually a reality," said Isabel. Of her life's experiences, she said, "It's kind of crazy to think I was able to start from zero practically, and then work all the way back up."
Like many college freshmen, Isabel hasn't figured out what field she wants to study, but she's considering neuroscience. "I just think it would be nice to contribute to this field and solve cases like mine that went unsolved."
Don't bet against her.
"It's my positive mentality combined with my philosophy that hard work always pays off that has really helped me get over these obstacles and achieve things I'd never thought I would achieve," said Isabel. "I always thought I'm going to give my best and that's the best I can do."
Student headed to Stanford on scholarship after nearly losing her life
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