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Graduation for woman whose birth saved sister

May 23, 2013 12:15:29 AM PDT
It was a happy milestone for Cal State Long Beach student Marissa Ayala. She graduated Wednesday and has big plans for the future. But getting here hasn't been easy.

When Marissa was born 23 years ago, her birth was controversial. She and her family were the focus of media attention and some criticism because her parents chose to conceive her to help save her sister's life.

"I was diagnosed when I was 16. She was born at 18," said older sister Anissa Brackett.

Brackett, now a grown woman with her own family, remembers clearly when she was diagnosed with leukemia as a teenager and the backlash that followed when Marissa was born and eventually became the bone marrow donor that saved her life.

"My parents went through so much. I can't imagine what my mother went through, being pregnant, having a sick child," Brackett said.

It was 1988, after failing to find a donor for Brackett, that Abe and Mary Ayala made the decision to try to have another baby. The odds were stacked against them. Abe had to reverse a vasectomy, and the couple in their mid 40s had to conceive a child. Then that child had to be a perfect match for Brackett.

Yet somehow, it all worked out.

"We won the battle, and she's here, and for all the people that criticized us, here we are, happy as can be," said Mary Ayala.

With a degree in communicative disorders, Marissa plans to continue helping people as a speech pathologist.

"Everybody has always said, 'You were brought into this world with a purpose,' and I want to finish with a purpose," Marissa said. "I believe that my mission in life is to help people."

And she hopes her family's story will continue to continue to encourage others become bone marrow donors.

"My sister had a previous match, and they declined to go forward, and it's just heartbreaking, so I feel that obviously, it's the gift of life. What better gift can you give?"


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