Georgia prom queen 'never let Down syndrome keep her from her dreams'

The Georgia teenager created social media buzz over the weekend when her classmates at Coffee High School voted her prom queen.

While Paulk, 19, is the talk of the town and living what seems like a Cinderella dream, her life hasn’t always been a walk in the park.

Just a few days after she was born, Paulk was diagnosed with Down syndrome.

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“Initially, I didn’t know she had Down syndrome,” Paulk’s mother, Katoria Grady, said in an interview Monday afternoon with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. “I actually found out three to four days later.”

The first four months of Paulk’s life were confined to a hospital, where she had at least one surgery a week, Grady said.

“We just took it one day at a time,” she said.

When Paulk came home, she was attached to a heart monitor and was fed through a tube inserted in her stomach.

With expenses mounting, Grady stayed in a nearby Ronald McDonald House and her parents helped with medical expenses.

Gradually, Grady said, things began to improve. Paulk began bottle-feeding at six months. She was crawling at 1 1/2 years old. By two years old, Paulk was walking and talking.

Through it all, Paulk didn’t quit.

“She never gave up,” Grady said. “She’s a fighter. Even when she’s sick, she still has fight in her.”

Paulk’s can-do attitude, her mother said, landed her a spot as an honorary cheerleader and earned her a scholar-athlete award.

Paulk’s success didn’t end there. Saturday, she was crowned prom queen by her peers, moving the crowd to tears, Grady said.

“The room was dark, but she lit it up,” she said. “She was glowing in the dark.”

Multiple social media users and news outlets have shared Paulk’s story.

“OK, FB,” Cella Brewton said in a Facebook post that has been shared more than 6,000 times. “I need your help. Let’s put Coffee County on the map with something positive.”

Another post on the Coffee County Schools Facebook page read: “She never let Down syndrome keep her away from her dreams.”

Paulk’s journey doesn’t end with high school.

She will enroll in Project SEARCH, a program that teaches students with special needs job skills at Coffee Regional Medical Center, teacher Katy Johnson said.

The opportunity allows Paulk to work alongside her mother, who is a licensed practical nurse at the hospital.

Seeing Paulk transition may be difficult for Johnson as she’s worked with her and her classmates for four years.

“As her teacher, I got to watch her grow into an amazing and mature young woman,” Johnson said. “I’m going to miss her because she’s so special to me.”

That something about Paulk can’t quite be placed, Johnson said.

“When you meet her, you fall in love with her.”

>> Click here to see a Facebook post about Paulk