Born Billie Evasue in 1931 in Peacock in Stonewall County, "Sue," as she was to become known, was the second of O.M. and Alma Stevens' six children. When she was 11 months old, she came down with diphtheria, a disease common at the time that has nearly been wiped out today because of immunizations.Back then, diphtheria was fatal to many children. The contagious disease can affect the nose, throat, air passages and sometimes skin.
The diphtheria that Sue contracted caused a high fever that closed her windpipe. It couldn't be reopened, so a tracheotomy was performed in Abilene. An artificial airway was created by surgically inserting a tube into the windpipe, or trachea, so Sue could breathe normally.
As a baby, she nearly died many times from choking. Doctors say it's a miracle she survived diphtheria and the tracheotomy. Trach tubes can become easily clogged and must be cleaned out regularly.
Sue's first trach tube was metal and two inches long. The opening was not much bigger than a matchstick head. Sue would get new tubes as she got older.
Talking posed a challenge. Sue would try to say words. But they came out as clicking noises. Eventually, her family and friends figured out her strange language.
Forty years later, Sue -- now a grandmother of six and great-grandmother of four -- started experiencing irritation around the trach hole in her throat. In 2005, she visited Abilene ear, nose and throat specialist Dr. Austin King.
King told her she should be talking and suggested another surgery to repair her windpipe so she could breathe through her nose and speak.
The surgery was supposed to take less than two hours. It took twice as long. Afterward, King told her he had found so much scar tissue that she could have died in her sleep because her airway was in danger of closing.
Members of the local Honey Bee Club were stunned when Booth volunteered her sister to say the prayer at the beginning of the meeting. "Thank you, God, for this food. Amen," Sue simply said.
Booth said there wasn't a dry eye in the room.
Last year, the voice institute honored Sue and another patient at a dinner. They gave her a plaque acknowledging her faith, courage and hope. It included the scripture Psalm 40:3: "He put a new song in my mouth, a hymn of praise to our God."
What a cool story!