21-year-old leaves legacy of compassion
Jan. 3, 2012 at 8:05 p.m.
Updated Jan. 3, 2012 at 7:04 p.m.
Her mom likes to say she had her angel for 21 years.
But Alexandria Danielle Romeo is not done yet.
Romeo, who lived with epilepsy since the age of 13, is leaving a legacy of compassion that has programs across the country inspired to create kindness in her name.
"Alexandria turned what would have been a piece of coal into a diamond, and she used her voice to advocate for people who were bullied," her mom, Nipal Bellmonde said.
Before her diagnosis, Romeo was an accelerated student, so smart that she skipped the third grade, Bellmonde said. She was an acclaimed vocalist, too, placing first in a state opera contest.
In January 2004, Romeo and Bellmonde were out of town on a mother-daughter weekend when Bellmonde found her daughter slumped in a car, blue, with foam pouring from her mouth. Romeo would later be diagnosed with a rare form of epilepsy, a seizure disorder that would leave her living in a constant state of caution.
"Her whole life had just been rescripted. It was a world of 'I can' to a world of 'no you can't,'" Bellmonde said. "It just hit the brakes."
Within a year of high school at St. Joseph, she would be forced to learn from home because the school's florescent lighting triggered seizures.
They'd learn television, certain beats of music, even artificial sweeteners like those in diet sodas, were triggers, too. On a good day, she'd have 10 seizures. More often, 20.
She couldn't shower with the door closed, walk up stairs alone, swim or get into the usual bout of teenage mischief, as her mom puts it.
But Romeo had plenty of fun, at least according to the stories her best friend, Anndria Lissa Quilantan thought were safe for public disclosure.
Romeo, who Quilantan called "Elle," was a combination of Marilyn Monroe and Bettie Page, with signature red lips, long lashes and "skin made of porcelain." She could calculate numbers in her head, never got lost, performed pinpoint accents and loved to do photo shoots in front of old, wrinkled sheets, Quilantan, 20, said.
The two would laugh until they were red in the face, recalling inside jokes no one else would understand.
"She got me, and I got her," Quilantan said.
But Romeo would be an outcast in school, misunderstood because of her condition. Quilantan said she actually met her best friend after Romeo was in the midst of boys taunting her with a fake love letter.
Quilantan remembered how her best friend forgave them all though, loving them hard even after their slights.
"She was so unique, and I liked her because she knew she had her quirks and she - quote, 'Let her freak flag fly,'" Quilantan wrote about Romeo.
Bellmonde said her daughter had the ability to forgive others even while on the ground having a seizure, amidst their taunts.
"It humbled her to such a place that she opened up this heart of compassion and what to bring awareness to what it was like to not fit in, to be misunderstood," Bellmonde said.
For most of her life, Romeo was dedicated to causes that empower women, like the Women in Need Foundation, which offers help for those facing abuse.
Though she never made it to France as she dreamed, she got out as often as her disease would allow, even making an impression on country music star Chris Cagle at a fundraising event in Houston.
After learning Romeo's date had stood her up for homecoming, Cagle traveled to Victoria in 2008 to take the 17-year-old to prom.
"She was infectious. Her spirit, it touched those around her. She loved everyone," her mom said.
On the morning before this past Thanksgiving, Romeo woke up and got dressed to go to the minimum-wage job that doctors said she'd never be able to have.
Romeo had a seizure in the bathroom. She hit her head and never woke up.
"I never imagined we'd be burying her. I thought we'd be marrying her," Tracy Kemble, founder of WIN said.
Not long after Romeo died, Kemble's foundation began creating a candle for their longtime volunteer. It's to be called "Touched by Danielle," a brown sugar-scented, pink candle.
Romeo's story eventually also caught the eye of FoRe! Beyond the Green International Ministries and jewelry designer Rebecca Lawlor, who together debuted a crystal heart necklace. Hanging on a baby pink ribbon, the necklace called "Wish" will benefit the new Live With a Heart FoRe! Danielle Foundation.
To add to the mix, fashion designer Emmilie Lynn, CEO of Kyaleigh Kouture has created a shirt collection in honor of Romeo called "Angels by Kyaleigh." Still in production, the shirts feature torso-length angel wings.
"Danielle has earned her wings, and now she can show others through her spirit how to earn theirs," Lynn said.
Before foundations were being launched and products were being created in honor of her daughter, Bellmonde sat a little more despaired, a little more out of breath, when talking about Romeo.
She never imagined so many people would be as moved by her daughter as she was. But now she's back to having a purpose, creating a website and a foundation that will benefit the causes Romeo cared about in her 21 years.
"I choose to think she's my angel," Bellmonde said.