“I still really believe the surgery saved her life,” her mom Jenny Shapiro, 35, tells PEOPLE. “I don’t even know if we would be here. Seeing her do a 5K was just icing on the cake.”
A year ago Alexis could barely move her 4’7″ frame – her weight had ballooned to 203 lbs. following a 2011 operation to remove a brain tumor. That procedure damaged her hypothalamus, which controls appetite and metabolism. In addition to gaining 150 lbs., Alexis developed diabetes and her liver and pancreas were under extreme stress. She was almost always in pain.
Surgery was a last resort, says Jenny, but it turned out to be a good decision: After undergoing the gastric sleeve procedure at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center in March 2014, Alexis lost nearly 60 lbs. in six months. “I feel more active and more talkative,” Alexis told PEOPLE at the time. “I walk laps every day.”
Although Alexis has since gained back 8 to 10 lbs. – “hypothalamic obesity is a beast,” says Jenny – she is doing well and is in good spirits. “Alexis has a confidence about her that she didn t have before. She’s gaining independence little by little and becoming her own person.”
Yet she still struggles with another side effect of the original brain tumor operation: panhypopituitarism. She needs to take steroids and growth hormones every day, which damage her bones and make her feel sick. At least once a week she has to miss school.
“She does as well as she can,” says Jenny. “She tries to tough it out.” And after being homeschooled during her health crisis, Alexis actually enjoys going to school now. “She has friends in her class,” adds Jenny, who posts updates on Alexis’s progress on Facebook. “Having them in her corner has helped so much.”
Although Alexis still has challenges, Jenny says the family remains hopeful.
“The surgery was really good for Alexis and I m proud of her. It took a lot of hard work – a lot. And it still does. I’m baffled by how well she does, especially at her age. She’s such a tough girl.”