Friday, January 28, 2011

Texas teen with spina bifida gets full scholarship to train to be a welder

From The Caller-Times:

CORPUS CHRISTI, Texas — A 17-year-old girl diagnosed with spina bifida who has spent her life defying expectations will go to college for free after anonymous donors learned about her story.

A Caller-Times article and video Sunday featuring Tiffany Rivera prompted one anonymous donor to pay for Tiffany to attend and complete Del Mar College's West Campus Welding program. Another man walked into her mother's restaurant Sunday while Tiffany was working, told her how impressed he was with her and handed an envelope with $1,000 in cash.

"I have a smile on my face," Tiffany said. "It hasn't sunk in at all that this is happening. I'm so excited."

Details of her Del Mar scholarship have not been worked out, said Ray High School Principal Cissy Reynolds-Perez. Tiffany, who said she's interested in attending school there, will meet college officials Tuesday to discuss the donation.

College spokeswoman Claudia Jackson said she can't release details about the donation until Tiffany formally commits to the school.

"We have a meeting set up with her and her parents, and we're delighted to have this opportunity to explore with her," Jackson said.

Tiffany's mother, Leticia Vasquez, said the support has overwhelmed the family.

"We're just in a daze," she said. "I don't even know how to explain how I feel."

She said Tiffany spent most of Sunday morning crying, amazed at how many people were inspired by the story. Tiffany said she's incredulous at the number of people who have thanked her for her strength and courage.

"It's good knowing that I'm actually making a difference in a way," she said.

Born with spina bifida, a rare and often crippling disease, doctors feared Tiffany would never walk. From her first steps at 11 months old to her success in welding, a profession dominated by men, the 4 foot 9 inch high school junior has spent her entire life trying to prove people wrong.

Spina bifida is a birth defect in which the spinal cord, or its coverings, do not completely develop. It can be mild to severe, depending on the size, location and extent of the malformation. While some people have no noticeable symptoms, others are paralyzed for life. Like many of those with spina bifida, Tiffany's sole lingering side effect is that she can't control when she goes to the bathroom.

Despite her complications, she has become one of the top welders in her class.