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American Airlines welcomes girl with Down syndrome & terminal illness as flight attendant

(CBS) - A 17-year-old girl with Down syndrome and several health problems is living her dream of becoming a flight attendant, thanks to American Airlines.

Shantell "Shannie" Pooser was born with a heart defect and a series of terminal airway defects. She has struggled with her health conditions her whole life, but Shannie's mom, Deanna Miller-Berry, told CBS News her daughter was born to defy the odds.

For years, Shannie has been traveling back and forth from Denmark, South Carolina, to Cincinnati Children's Hospital for treatments and surgeries. In 2016, she received a major surgery that would save her life. Doctors told Miller-Berry when her daughter came out of surgery, she would be in bad shape.

"She came out singing 'Let It Go' from Frozen," Miller-Berry said. "The surgeons were standing around like, 'We've never had anybody come out of this type of surgery talking ... this girl is singing 'Let It Go' in ICU.'"

It was the moment Miller-Berry realized her daughter had a passion for life that could not be wasted. "I made a vow to God," Miller-Berry said. "I said, 'Shannie, no matter what you want to do when you get better, we'll make a bucket list and I'll make it happen. If you live long enough where the doctors can fix you 100 percent, I'll do my best to make your dreams come true.'"

Shannie made a short bucket list and the first dream was fulfilled on her 17th birthday in October. 

"We became friends with a lot of the flight attendants and a lot of pilots, and she just kept saying, 'Mommy, I want to be a flight attendant,'" Miller-Berry said. She knew this was an unrealistic dream for her daughter, but Miller-Berry did not want to let her down.

She sent a letter to a friend who works as a flight attendant at American Airlines, asking if Shannie could have airline memorabilia. She ended up getting a call from a pilot who offered something greater than a birthday party. "He said, 'We're going to give her birthday party on a Boeing jet.'"

The birthday party was more than the mother and daughter could have dreamed of. The entire first class was filled with Shannie's friends and local celebrities showed up for the trip, like Columbia Mayor Stephen K. Benjamin

Miller-Berry was shocked by the generosity of the company, but the surprise for Shannie did not stop there. American Airlines sent her an official uniform and badge so she could dress as a flight attendant whenever she flies.

Due to her condition, Shannie has an inability to fly on long flights on a frequent basis. But since she makes the flight to Cincinnati often, the airline decided to make her part of the staff of the flight each time she flies.

Before each flight, Shannie helps flight attendants before she has to sit down and rest. Shannie usually helps the flight attendants demonstrate safety instructions. So far, she has worked in full uniform about four times since her birthday flight.

The remaining items on Shannie's list: meet the Obamas, dance on Ellen DeGeneres' show and go to her junior prom in a hot air balloon.

"She has a Barack Obama doll and she sleeps with it every night. She's the only person that can sleep with Barack Obama and get away with it," Miller-Berry joked.

The surgery Shannie had in 2016 came with risks, and she had growths that grew back aggressively. She is scheduled to have emergency surgery next week but her family is confident she will keep her spirits up.

"I'm really in the business right now of fulfilling her bucket list," Miller-Berry said. She said she is working to get Shannie the hot air balloon ride to prom and hopes her daughter will be officially employed by American Airlines when she turns 18.

For Shannie, nothing is impossible. Her dreams keep getting fulfilled because of her optimism and fighting spirit.


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