Defying birth defect, Pinay inspires others at US college graduation

Don Tagala, ABS-CBN North America News Bureau

Posted at Jun 10 2017 04:12 PM

NEW YORK CITY - With hard work and persistence, Filipina Grace Theresa Agalo-os, once told she would not be able to walk, marched with the graduating class of 2017 at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York.

“For my mom, for my family who’s here… they are the ones who shaped me to be the successful person that I am today,” Agalo-os said.

The 23-year-old Pinay said all of her mom’s hard work and sacrifice have paid off over her last four years in college.

“When I first started college, I had a kidney transplant, I was 6 months out of the hospital, she drove me day in and day out for my classes,” she said. “A month into my college, she got into a car accident, and she wasn’t able to get me to school anymore, and I had to find my way.”

Agalo-os was born with spina bifida – a Latin term for split spine. Spina bifida is a birth defect where a baby’s spinal cord failed to develop or close properly while in the womb. In the US, about 1,500 to 2,000 babies are born with spina bifida each year.

Her father, former National Bilibid Prison superintendent Gregorio Agalo-os, decided to leave everything in the Philippines so Grace could have a better life in the US.

With her family, Grace came to the States in 2005 when she was nine-years-old for medical treatment.

“When I was born in the Philippines, the doctor said that I would never be able to walk. But at 6 years old, I did — just as how babies learned to walk, I fell. I would fall over and over again, my mom would never pick me up,” she said.

“I always asked myself why wouldn’t my mom pick me up? One day, she stared at me, she looked at me, and said 'pick yourself up, no one else is going to,” she said.

Her mother’s tough love got her through life as she picked herself up over and over again until she got to where she is today: a political science graduate and student government president at the only criminal justice college in the US, and a future lawyer who wants to make a difference in her homeland.

“My biggest dream is to start a non-profit in the Philippines, a grassroots organization, because there are a lot who are willing to help the Philippines, people with disabilities,” she shared.

Grace said her dream organization will find and match people with disabilities in the Philippines with the right assistance they need, so they could pick themselves up and find their own success in life, just as she did.

Read more on Balitang America: