It's been more than three weeks since Danielle Mauldin's family and friends were told she had 24 hours to live from a bizarre finding — a blood clot that caused her small intestines to fail and infection to spread to her other organs.
The May 19 diagnosis shook those who know the 24-year-old Lafayette native. Mauldin seemed happy and healthy. She was living in Destin, Florida, with her boyfriend of three years and was studying medical laboratory sciences at the University of West Florida.
Yet two days after realizing something was wrong — she'd become violently sick May 17 and couldn't keep anything down — Mauldin was receiving hospice care in a Florida hospital.
"Danielle was dying, and there was nothing more we could do," said her friend, Kaitlyn Melancon. "That's what the hospital told us. I said my goodbyes to Danielle. I said goodbye to her life to her face. She said she loved me, and it was just like, I thought that was it."
Melancon's exchange with Mauldin happened May 22 in that Florida hospital room. When Melancon had left Lafayette for Destin the day before, she wasn't sure if she would make it to the hospital in time to say goodbye. Melancon was one of many who questioned Mauldin's sudden death sentence during those emotional goodbyes.
And for good reason. Mauldin defied all expectations.
"She was still alive," Melancon said. "Everything in Danielle's body was fighting to stay alive, and her vitals were amazing."
On May 29, 10 days after she was given 24 hours to live, Mauldin learned she would be flying to Cleveland, Ohio, to a hospital that agreed to take her case.
There, she would undergo surgery to remove her small intestines and a portion of her large intestines and other surgeries in preparation for a small intestines transplant.
"This has been nothing short of an emotional roller-coaster," said her boyfriend, Alejo Perea. "To be faced with having to tell the love of your life that her problem was inoperable is something I hope no man or woman has to go through in their life. We have quite an expensive road ahead of us, but there is no dollar amount in this world I would not spend on what needs to be done for her."
Mauldin, her boyfriend and her mom prepared for the flight to Ohio.
Meanwhile, people in Acadiana and beyond had been following Mauldin's story, and one of her friends started a fundraiser to offset medical and travel expenses.
More than $65,000 has been raised so far.
"I have been absolutely blown away with the love and support we have received," Perea said. "The positivity is what she needs to push on. Anyone who has ever been in a hospital can tell you that it definitely is not a fun experience. Positive words, wishes and providing her good vibes to occupy her mind are imperative to her recovery. I can't say I'm surprised by how many people have wished her well though, just because she is such an outstanding person."
Mauldin's boyfriend, friends and family describe her as a tenacious person with a brilliant smile.
She's a 2012 graduate of Lafayette High School and a 2016 graduate of the University of Louisiana at Lafayette, where she studied biology.
"She never goes into anything halfheartedly," Perea said. "She has been faced with many adversities in her young life and does all in her power to face them with full effort, all while maintaining a smile. She never stops trying to better herself and her life."
Melancon said Mauldin knows when to offer comfort and when to push others who were going through a rough time.
"She's like pure sunshine," Melancon said. "She would help me clean my car because it would get so filthy, but she would never judge me. She would be real with me. She would say, 'You tell me you're sad, but when are you going to do something about it?'"
Mauldin's mother, Anne-Marie, has been sharing updates about her daughter on Facebook.
"I never gave up hope, my faith or trusting that God would spare my child's life," Anne-Marie Mauldin wrote June 3. "People kept telling me I needed to grieve. I cried and I cried a lot, but as long as there was breath in her body, I wasn't going to grieve! My faith was that strong and still is!"
Danielle Mauldin has had multiple surgeries to remove additional blood clots and to prepare for the transplant. She also tested positive for a genetic blood clotting disorder her mom has.
She's made small improvements with the help of physical, occupational and art therapy, but there's still a long road to recovery.
What would Danielle Mauldin say to those in Acadiana and beyond who have been following her story?
"She wants to thank each and every person for praying and reaching out during such a rough situation," Perea said. "Her spirits are alive and well, but she is ready for the fight!"
Learn more about Danielle Mauldin's story or donate to the fundraising effort at facebook.com/donate/348242549210713.