BY SRIANTHI PERERA
Every mother feels that her child is a miracle.
But Diane Passafiume of Gilbert possibly has a bigger claim than most.
Her daughter, Alyssa, a 17-year-old junior at Williams Field High School, was born with chicken pox; developed sleep apnea and a heart defect and had to wear a heart monitor until she was 2; had seizures from age 1 to 6 that caused her to stop breathing; and last, but not least, developed an immune disorder called Mucha-Habermann that manifests itself as lesions or ulcerated sores.
“Through this time, in and out of hospitals, she was always very loving and outgoing outgoing and she was very rambunctious,” Passafiume recalled. “I would say God wants her here for a reason. She’s been through so much… she’s special.”
With most of her early maladies put to rest, Alyssa is a normal, happy teen, an active member of the Phoenix Children’s Chorus and working hard at school with an aim of becoming a pediatrician. She’s also a queen.
In September, Alyssa was chosen as Miss Arizona Teen America and is now looking forward to competing in Miss Teen America, to be held Aug. 2-5 in Los Angeles. Judging criteria include beauty, of course, plus fitness, interview skills, talent and a viable platform.
Her “random acts of kindness” platform was chosen because her interests are many and varied, she said.
“With everything that’s going on in the world, I’m just hoping that even a little will make an impact in someone’s life,” said Alyssa, who volunteers at Feed My Starving Children, Young Lives and ICAN of Chandler, among other nonprofits helping youth.
Just last month, she emceed at the Gilbert Global Village Festival, to get firsthand experience on speaking to an audience. Her parents,
Jiovani and Diane, are also helping her to find sponsors, which is an integral part of participating in the pageant.
The competition is tough and merits rigorous preparation and dedication, she said. “I’m definitely nervous because this is my first big pageant,” she said. “But you just need to have confidence and trust yourself because you’re going to rock it, basically.”
The teen already knows how to juggle her time, what with the mandatory choir rehearsals and practice time each week, her volunteering commitments and school work.
“I have a study time; I have a pageant time and I have a choir time,” she said. “Sometimes, you have to do what you have to do with schoolwork, and I usually get it done.”
Alyssa also attends a preparatory program in the medical field at EVIT in Mesa.
Due to the extensive periods spent in hospitals undergoing treatment when she was little, she feels that she can understand the fears of sick children.
“That’s mostly why I’m inspired to become a pediatrician; just help kids in general,” said Alyssa, who has two younger sisters, Jiana, 14, and Alana, 11. “I want to help them and put a smile on their faces.”
Alyssa is aware that she is a role model to younger girls.
“I really strive to empower young women like myself to reach for their goals. I faced many obstacles in life and I want to show others that no matter who tells you no, you can still do it.
“I want to help spread kindness and I hope the others see the example that I set and want to jump on the bandwagon,” she added. Passafiume said that participating in the pageant will help her daughter with her future career plans as well.
“I’m really excited for her…I told her that this is going to give her the social skills and the outreach skills to be able to reach out to people in the community and it will be a very good opportunity for her in life to speak in front of that many people,” said, adding “it’s the inner beauty that will hopefully shine.”