By: Paula C. Baez Santiago
If you ever visit the Gonzalez’s Family, on the hills of Villalba, you’ll take the sweetest memories with you. As you enter their humble wooden home, the first thing you can hear is a perky voice talking and laughing.
“Christmas is almost here! You can feel it in the air” says the perky voice. “It brings such a warm, fuzzy feeling”
As the perky voice echoes from one room to another, a middle aged woman gives her a warm blanket accompanied with a warm smile saying: “Fani, you should wear something warm or you’re going to get a cold”
Fani is the nickname of a beautiful, sweet loving girl named Stephanie Gonzalez. This lovely, 15 years old, black haired teenager wears a smile as her most valuable jewel and shares it with everyone she possible can.
“Wherever she goes she just lights up the room” says Isabel, a marketing student from the Vocational High School of Villalba. “Her happiness is spread to everyone around her the moment she enters the room”
“From birth she has suffered from Spina Bifida and because of this condition she can’t walk and uses a wheelchair to move around…It has been very hard on everyone, but little by little we have moved forward”, said her mother Elizabeth.
“Even if I am in a wheelchair, that doesn’t stop me from enjoying my life” says Fani with a grin.
Spina Bifida is a neural tube defect caused by the failure of the fetus’s spine to close properly during the first month of pregnancy and the spinal cords nerves are exposed and damaged.
The Spinal opening can be surgically repaired shortly after birth but the damage in the nerve is permanent, causing various degrees of paralysis affecting the legs and feet, bowel, and bladder or the brain.
“I have been through many operations, hoping I would be able to have the chance to walk like the other kids but….that was not the results I got” she said sadly with her small dark eyes but never letting that smile go down.
Many of the townspeople know this young lady and describe her as very brave, hardworking person, and at her school she is loved and cherished by everyone who knows her.
“At school she is always sharing her thoughts with her teachers and she never misses the opportunity to enjoy her time with her friends and laugh as much as possible” says Rosa Camacho, Stephanie’s Spanish teacher at the Vocational High School.
“Not being able to join my friends dancing, walking or running is my biggest obstacle in life and it makes me very sad, but that doesn’t stop me from having fun too!” she says as she flips her hair backwards and starts to laugh because her hair got blown right back to her face by the wind.
Whenever she can, she helps her friends and classmates with their school work, listens to their problems and gives them advice. By helping her friends, Fani found her goal in life–to be a teacher. “I want to be a teacher so I can teach and help other kids in their life as my teachers have helped me”
“She is so loved that, even if she can’t do the same extracurricular activities as her friends, they find a way to include her on the fun so she doesn’t feel left out”, said Rosa.
Her family and friends support and help her as best they can so she doesn’t feel alone on her journey through life. Also, with all the love she receives from them is enough to make Fani reach the end of the day happy.
“Being a part of Stephanie’s life has showed me that any obstacle that comes your way can be overcome”, says Isabel with tears in her eyes. “She has been like a role model to me”.
Giving thanks to God for everything she has been given, Stephanie wakes up, goes to school like any regular kid, and, at the end of the day, she comes home and tells her family how her day went with a smile on her face and never giving up on her goals.