Family Focus

Family Focus: Girl born without esophagus wants to give back

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Any time college freshman Aviana Collins gets to spend with her dog, Lexi, is precious. Less than a year ago, she gave her family a scare and ended up in a hospital for weeks.

“I've always had trouble eating. I've always had to be careful with what I eat,” Collins said.

That's because she was born without an esophagus.

Doctors in New York created an esophagus for Collins years ago using part of her small intestine.

Last summer, doctors in Charlotte found that it had stretched and started twisting, making her very sick. She was in a lot of pain and very scared.

“It was hard because I didn't know what was going to happen. I didn't know how serious it was,” Collins said.

Her doctor, Dr. Andrew Schulman, of Pediatric Surgical Associates, said the emergency surgery took about 10 hours as they reformed her esophagus.

Weeks later, the active teen was ready to head to camp to be a summer camp counselor.

To avoid complications, she now tries to stick to softer foods and not a lot of bread or red meat.

“We know at some point down the road that she may need something more definitive. But right now -- you know Aviana's got a lot of plans. We don't want anything right now that's going to disrupt those,” Schulman said.

Those plans for the University of South Carolina student include giving back. She's studying to be a nurse.

“I want to be able to lift them up and give them the courage and strength that I had and that I needed,” Collins said.

She wants to be there for other kids like her at their weakest moments.