Young Woman, Famously Born to Save Sister, Graduates From College

"I've always been defined as the angel that saved my sister's life," Marissa Ayala said. "Now, this is a time for me to be on my own and to be defined as something different."

By Hetty Chang
|  Thursday, May 23, 2013  |  Updated 6:22 AM PDT
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Hetty Chang

"I've always been defined as the angel that saved my sister's life," Marissa Ayala said. "Now, this is a time for me to be on my own and to be defined as something different." Ayala was famously conceived in hopes that her bone marrow could save her sister's life, which it did. On Wednesday, she graduated from Cal State Long Beach. Hetty Chang reports from Long Beach for the NBC4 News at 5 p.m. on May 22, 2013.

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Even before she was born, Cal State University Long Beach student Marissa Ayala, 23, was making national headlines.

When her parents couldn't find a bone marrow donor for her sister, Anissa, who had been diagnosed with leukemia, they tried to conceive a child to create a match. In April 1990, Marissa was born, and she was a perfect match.

The child who was said to have been born to save her sister's life, opened a chapter in her own life when she graduated from college Wednesday.

"I feel really excited and really motivated to see what the next step is going to be, I can't wait to see what life has to offer me," said Ayala, who graduated with a degree in communicative disorders.

Ayala said she is used to having cameras and media in her life. Her parents' decision to conceive a child to save a child stirred up a nationwide debate on ethics. Ayala said she is ready to live her own life.

"I've always been defined as the angel that saved my sister's life," said Ayala. "Now, this is a time for me to be on my own and to be defined as something different."

Ayala and her sister have a remarkable bond. It's not something, however, they talk about often.

"We are just two normal sisters," said Ayala. "We just happen to have this amazing story behind us."

"Yeah, I think that's true," added her sister, Anissa Brackett. "I don't think there are days where we talk about this."

Ayala's birth and bone marrow transplant was the subject of a 1993 movie by NBC titled "For the Love of My Child." Mary Ayala, Marissa's mother, admitted the criticism had her questioning her own decision and faith.

"While I was pregnant, I thought about it, and thought, did I really do something wrong? I didn't know," she said.

Mary Ayala said now, she wouldn't have it any other way.

"She (Marissa) is the perfect daughter - OK, not the perfect daughter! Let me tell you, we get into it," she said. "But it's been a great, great journey."

It is a journey that has just begun, according to Ayala.

"I feel that I'm so blessed to have my sister and my family story, but that's just one part of my life. It's not my entire life. My whole life is just starting and I'm so excited to take those next steps and see what's next."

Ayala wants to become a speech pathologist. She has planned to move in with her sister this summer.

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