A recent Hornbeck High School graduate has found her way through 19 surgeries, since birth, has managed to successfully complete high school, and earn scholarships. She is headed to college in the fall to pursue a career in the medical field.

A recent Hornbeck High School graduate has found her way through 19 surgeries, since birth, has managed to successfully complete high school, and earn scholarships. She is headed to college in the fall to pursue a career in the medical field.

When Marissa Brown was born, on August 6, 1999, she was not breathing. Her mother, Kristie Brown, saw her turn from blue to black until doctors used a suction machine to clear her airways and resuscitate her.

She had a cleft palate, and her upper vertebrae were fused together, restricting range-of-motion in her shoulders. Also, Marissa's lower jaw was much smaller than normal. She was not even strong enough to suck a bottle, said Margie, her maternal grandmother. Doctors had to find an alternative to make it easier for her.

Cleft palate is a facial/oral malformation, which occurs early in a pregnancy. It is a split or opening, of varying severity, in the roof of the mouth. Cleft palate affects one in 700 babies annually, and is the fourth most common birth defect in the United States.

Dr. G. E. Ghali, oral and maxillofacial surgeon, Chancellor of LSU Health Sciences Center Shreveport and Dean of the School of Medicine, closed her cleft palate when she was 18-months-old. He has been her doctor since that first surgery.

"Now they are trying to bring that lower jaw out," said Margie. "There was a time when she couldn't bite through a sandwich because her teeth didn't align. She is excited because she's almost ready to have her braces off."

For Marissa's 20th surgery, Ghali will trim her gums back and expose her teeth more, when the braces come off.

She went through various surgeries and procedures to remedy problems with her jaw. Brown had issues with her eyesight too, due to a tight nerve, which also had to be operated on.

In 2015, Marissa underwent her 18th surgery. It took Ghali over 10 hours to remove a piece of bone from her hip and graft it to her lower jaw.

"Her speech is not real clear," said Margie, "but she's not self-conscious about it. She is different. Her little face is different. Other children stare at her, but she just ignores it and she doesn't talk about. It's all normal to her bc that's the way she's been since birth. She has to turn her whole body, can't turn her neck from side to side, but Marissa always learned to improvise. She has a little loving spirit, she is compassionate to other people."

Marissa lived in Shreveport until 9th grade. "She played soccer, took dance lessons, and was in Girl Scouts. She was involved in a lot of stuff," said Margie.

Through all of her surgeries and struggles, Marissa managed to graduate seventh, out of 26 students, in her class.

She earned the Longville Patriotism Award, the James and Linda Rowe Memorial Scholarship, the Steven Netherland Memorial Scholarship, and Steven Cole Foundation Scholarship.

Marissa has been accepted into the University of Louisiana, Monroe, where she will major in Biology.