Marissa Eve Ayala, who first drew national attention more than two decades ago as the child who was born to provide her sister a life-saving bone marrow transplant, graduated from Cal State Long Beach this week with a degree in speech pathology.
Ayala, 23, said she has carved out her own story, despite the years of media attention on the reason she was born.
"Well, what now is, I'm graduating from Cal State Long Beach," she told the Long Beach Press-Telegram. "I couldn't be happier and I'm making my own goals and setting my own aspirations. And, yes, even though I saved my sister's life and I'm so happy that she's here with us today, I have a separate life besides this story."
Ayala’s sister, Anissa, was found to have chronic myelogenous leukemia in 1988. Her parents, unable to find a donor with matching marrow, decided to conceive another child, based on a 1 in 4 chance that the baby would be a match.
Amid the heated national debate that followed the family's decision, Marissa Ayala was born April 3, 1990. Fourteen months later, Ayala successfully gave a matching sample of bone marrow and saved her older sister's life.
Since then, Ayala’s sister has fully recovered and worked to build up the number of potential Latino donors.
When Anissa needed a transplant, there were only 17,000 marrow donors registered nationally. Now, sparked in part by high-profile cases like hers, millions of people have signed up.
"Her case drew such tremendous national attention that it couldn't help but make [people] look at the need to register in greater numbers," John Echeveste, spokesman for the National Marrow Donor Program, told The Times in 1997.
Marissa Ayala’s family was at her graduation this week, the Press-Telegram reported. Ayala will begin a job at a behavior therapy clinic in Orange County, where she plans to live with her older sister.
Her dream is to help enable individuals with communicative disorders to say: “I love you,” Ayala told the Press-Telegram. Because, "how important is it for a parent or child to hear those words?"