MANATEE -- Lauren Horne and adversity are on a first-name basis.
Horne weighed only a pound and a half 22 years ago when she was born three months early. Her mother died of cancer at 34 while Lauren was still in the neonatal unit.
The newborn spent her first five months in the hospital.
Afterward, Horne had surgeries to correct problems with her vision -- nine on one eye alone -- as well as corrective procedures on her spine, legs and feet.
Her grandparents, Carson and Mary Jane Coulter, raised and loved the little girl, who refused to let the fact that she was blind in one eye, and had only low vision in the other, stop her from doing what other children did.
At age 7, she began learning the piano. Later, she became a member of the Braden River High School marching band.
"I would need to be on the left side of the formation to keep movement to my right, and use my peripheral vision," Horne says of how she played the clarinet and stayed aligned and in step with her band mates. "I saw it as another challenge.
"I will never forget our first football game. There was torrential rain, but we kept marching and playing," Horne said.
After Lauren's mother died, there was no one else who could take care of the baby, Mary Jane Coulter said.
"This was not your run-of-the-mill baby. She had problems and we needed a good pediatrician. But what difference does it make? She was our's and there was no one else to take care of her. My husband and I were running in every direction with doctors. If she hadn't been the fighter she is, she wouldn't have survived," Coulter said.
But it was about more than taking their granddaughter to doctors. The Coulters bought in completely to correcting the little girl's problems, one at a time.
"You have to get down on the floor and work with them," Coulter said. "It was a labor of love. She was 8 months old before she could sit up, and more than a year old before she crawled."
After Lauren graduated from Braden River High in 2010, she earned an associate's degree from Manatee Community College, later renamed State College of Florida, and enrolled in Saint Leo University, where she earned a bachelor's degree in general biology and a minor in chemistry.
She now interns at Roskamp Institute in Bradenton, working in DNA research, and assisting with scientific writing.
When Lauren first enrolled at Saint Leo, Coulter would bring her granddaughter home every weekend. But after Lauren became more comfortable on the small, tight-knit campus in Pasco County, and made friends, she started staying at Saint Leo for longer and longer periods.
Now, Lauren is back home in Bradenton, and Coulter, 77, drives her to the University of South Florida's Tampa campus three days a week for a science lab. While Coulter waits, she passes the time with books to read, puzzles to solve, and snacks to eat.
In 2014, Carson Coulter died after a long illness.
Even so, Horne felt her grandfather and her mother would somehow know when she graduated from Saint Leo.
"I know that he would be overjoyed at everything that happened. I know that he and mom saw it. They had the best seats in the house and didn't need a ticket," Horne said.
Coulter never regretted taking on such a huge challenge, while many other grandparents were settling into the slower pace of retirement.
"She was always a happy child, and good company," Coulter said, recalling how Lauren's cheerful personality stood out as a student at Oneco Elementary, Braden River Middle, and at Braden River High School.
"She has made me proud and made her grandfather really proud," Coulter said.
Lauren Horne knows that her grandmother made all the difference in her life.
"For all intents and purposes, she is my mother," Horne said.
After so much adversity, Horne looks for new challenges in the future.
"I would like to help people with dementia, and Alzheimer's and help veterans as well," she said.
James A. Jones Jr., East Manatee reporter, can be contacted at 941-745-7053 or on Twitter @jajones1.