After devastating loss, SC Teen celebrates one year with her new family

Originally aired on WHNS-TV – November 21, 2019

A special celebration was held tonight for 17 year old Lea Gibbons.

Lea lost her mother one year ago and tonight she celebrated one year wtih her new family that stepped up when she needed them most, but they say Lea is just what they needed. 

Lea lost everything she had last October, but one year ago Thursday, she joined her new family here in the Upstate. Through the pain of losing her biological mother, she is somehow finding the hope to inspire others. 

Lea says, ” I lift myself up and get out of bed every day and walk out the door and drive to school. I want other people to be able to do the same thing and take whatever is eating them up and use it.”

Lea Marie Elaine Gibbons is stood proudly with her new family at a ceremony to celebrate coming into their home.

She was uprooted from her life in myrtle beach when her mom died from health complications.

In fact, her name means a lot to her because her mother chose it long before she was born. She says her mother told her that Elaine is the name of the nurse who delivered her. She is keeping the last name Gibbons as well. 

“Out of all the things that have changed that is one thing that I would like to keep the at the same,” says Lea.  

Lea was very close to her mother because she was all she had. It was only the two of them for all her life. Lea says she is using that pain to inspire others.

“What I want to do, by I speaking and just by existing and encountering people every day, I want to show people that they are not alone.”

She wants to show people that “You don’t not have control. Life is not there to beat you down. You can make a decision in your mind and take whatever is happening to you and use it as fuel.”

Thankfully, she isn’t doing this alone.

Maddie says, “I can’t wait to spend more time with her.”

8-year-old Maddie is just one of the new family members lea gained in this transition.

Mallory White is a social worker for the Cyber Academy of South Carolina. Mallory was alerted when teachers noticed Lea’s grades were slipping leading up to the death of her mom.

Lea says she was grateful to attend school online. “It gave me the opportunity to spend the final moments with her when it really was important,” says Lea.

It was then that Mallory and her husband Michael knew they would be adding a place mat to their thanksgiving table for years to come.

Mallory says, “my heart just sank and all I did was say ‘hey honey one just found me’ and his response was where do I need to drive.”

Mallory and Michael say they had talked about adopting teens long before Lea came into their life. They knew that “the one” would find them. 

Michael says, “I wouldn’t have had the strength and courage” to do this without his wife leading with her heart. He trusted her when she felt called to bring Lea into their home. 

Within 24 hours of the email that sparked this all, they drove to Myrtle Beach to start the process to becoming Lea’s legal guardians.

This is only the beginning of the life lea is building in the Upstate.

She wants to do what she can to inspire others to open their hearts and homes to teens who are waiting to age out of the foster care system. 

Lea says, “maybe I could get people to think a little bit differently and not just about kindness and compassion and family, but about the foster system itself.”

To learn more about Cyber Academy of South Carolina, visit

Featured Articles