During much of Addy Sackett's young life, hitting developmental milestones, such as walking and fine motor skills, was challenging.
She's hit a milestone now that shows she not only has caught up but also is pushing beyond what many in her family thought she would ever achieve when she was born 16 weeks premature almost 19 years ago.
Addy graduated last week with nearly straight A's -- a 3.6 grade-point average -- from Cambridge Lakes Charter School in Pingree Grove.
"(Her development) was always a little bit delayed," says Addy's mother, Marti Whitehouse of Pingree Grove. "It was hard to have any expectations of a normal life."
And yet, she did.
Adelaide Eliese entered the world in late July of 2000 weighing only 1 pound, 3 ounces.
Doctors didn't think she would live through the first week.
But one by one, she started checking off the milestones.
At six weeks, nurses in the neonatal intensive care unit at Advocate Lutheran General Hospital in Park Ridge nicknamed Addy "the fighter."
Addy spent four months there until her original Nov. 22 due date, when her parents could take her home.
She didn't start walking until she was 18 months -- a development that normally occurs within a year for most babies.
She began kindergarten at age 6 -- a year later than her age group.
And while she didn't suffer any cognitive delays, Addy needed physical and occupational therapy through middle school to hone her motor skills.
Addy pushed herself harder in school, participating in multiple sports, becoming a high school student ambassador helping out freshmen, and volunteering at a Rockford hospital.
Her premature birth had a greater impact on her psyche "because I compare myself to my peers," she says.
"I can only move on and learn to take challenges as they come," she says.
"I just studied hard and got good grades. I'm a very determined person who when there is a challenge, I am going to face it head on and accomplish it."
Every achievement has been a tremendous blessing, says her mother, who feels "immeasurable pride" in how far her "miracle baby" has come.
"Her determination is going to take her very far," Whitehouse says.
Addy has been accepted into the honors program at Elgin Community College, where she plans to study nursing this fall.
She aspires to become a neonatal nurse at Advocate Lutheran General and find a mentor among the neonatal nurses, without whom she wouldn't be alive today.
She has wanted to be an NICU nurse since fifth grade.
"I'm very passionate about it," she says.
"Just from my own personal experience I'm drawn to it. I find medicine fascinating. ... Helping people ... comes naturally to me. This is all I've ever envisioned myself doing."
Addy found her path after her first day volunteering at the hospital, which left her in tears.
"It's in her heart to do the full-circle journey and tend to the babies like she was tended to so wonderfully," Marti Whitehouse says.
With technological advancements in medicine, preemies have a greater chance of survival today.
But Addy is bracing herself for an emotionally demanding career ahead.
"I know that there will be hard days and there will be challenges," she says.
"I just believe it's my calling in life and I can't think of anything else that I want to do."