Tessa Wilkerson has Spinal Muscular Atrophy Type II, a genetic disease in which loss of nerve cells in the spinal cord affects voluntary muscle movement. Patients experience muscle weakness and have a hard time breathing.
Lately, her respiratory problems have been under control, but unfortunately, just in time for something else to go wrong.
When she was eight years old, Tessa Wilkerson was all about Martina McBride. Now that she's nine, she has a crush on teen idol Zac Efron.
Tessa says, "He's a talented actor, and he's really cute!"
Her interests are changing, and so is she in many ways. Take for instance her hair.
Shannon asks, "What happened?"
Tessa replies, "I don't know; just over the year, it changed colors."
Tessa's different in size, too, having dropped 15 pounds after hip replacement surgery earlier this year.
Spinal Muscular Atrophy makes her muscles so weak, they don't really support her bones very well, and as she grows, she develops orthopedic problems.
Todd Wilkerson, Tessa's dad, describes, "You know, we've had the trachea and feeding tube, but the hips have probably been the roughest thing we've been through yet."
That's because Tessa spent five months in a full body cast, and worst of all, she just wasn't herself.
Tiffany Wilkerson, Tessa's mom, says, "She got into a mode of depression, and that was the hardest for us because we had never seen her give up, not want to fight to get up and do things."
Tessa says she didn't have very much energy, but when her bones finally got stronger and her medication weaker, it all came back.
"She snapped right out of it," says Tiffany.
Tessa explains, "I notice I can run around in my chair more."
This summer, she competed in a Soapbox Derby in Ohio, where she made new friends and won a trophy - add that to the ones she already has for singing in school talent shows!
So will Tessa be the next American Idol? The Wilkersons aren't sure, but here's what they do know.
"There's nothing we wouldn't do for her," says Tessa's mom.
Tessa says "It's sort of good when you know that you have somebody to back you up."
Shannon asks, "And who's that?"
Tessa replies, "My family."
14 News will once again be asking for your pledges this weekend at the 36th annual MDA Telethon. It starts Sunday after the NASCAR race on channel 14 and ends Monday evening, breaking for a few hours overnight.