By Danny Baggott @Dan_Baggie
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Videographer / director: Josh Freund
Producer: Danny Baggott, James Thorne
Editor: James Thorne
Doctors said Jacqueline Rodriguez would not live to see her first birthday, but the now 16-year-old has truly defied all odds and is set to graduate from college next year.
Jacqueline suffers with lymphatic malformations, an extremely rare condition that has formed large masses of tumour in her cheeks, tongue and chest.
Undeterred by having to speak through an iPad and eat through a formula tube, the brave teen from California takes regular guitar lessons, plays tennis for a local club and has high hopes to study nursing at Stanford University.
Jacqueline told Barcroft TV: “People normally stare at me and point a lot.
“People do say mean things.
“It makes me feel sad because they don’t know me enough to say mean things.
“I’m a normal human being. I like playing my guitar and playing tennis.
“I have health issues like everyone else.”
When Jacqueline’s mother, Evelyn Belen, was pregnant with her daughter, doctors informed her that her daughter’s quality of life would be very poor and that she could end the pregnancy if she wished.
But Evelyn and Jacqueline’s father, Paul, decided to choose life and to welcome their daughter into the world.
Evelyn, 52, said: “When I was still pregnant with Jacqueline, doctors were telling us our daughter might not get to see her first birthday.
“But now she is achieving so much and her self-esteem has truly blossomed - it’s incredible.
“And I just didn’t think we’d be here at this point. I’m so grateful."
Jacqueline added: “My parents help me by trying to make my life as normal as possible."
Doctors have tried to remove some of Jacqueline’s tumour throughout her life, but the mass has always seemed to grow back.
Without a definite form of treatment, specialists are now looking towards a more simple approach in trying to monitor and control the growth of the tumour cells without Jacqueline having to deal with severe discomfort.
Evelyn said: “With the medications that she is on, it seems to have stopped the growth and actually softened her tumour.
“She is now more capable of facial expressions and seeing because at one point her tumour was encroaching on her right eye.
“She’s been able to overcome a lot of that and now her tumour has been relaxed a little, she’s been able to feel better.”
Paul Rodriguez, 60, added: “What’s most rare about it is the mass.
“Three days after she was born, they took off two almost golf ball-sized tumours from her throat.
“But she has got so much perseverance. That little girl just wants to live. Every day she wakes up with a smile on her face and it just encourages you.
“She has been the best thing that happened to us.”
Despite Jacqueline’s difficulties with her communication, she still manages to attend college and make close friends.
Jacqueline has faced a barrage of negativity throughout her life, with school bullies and people staring and pointing from across the street.
But fortunately, that has not prevented her from thriving with her education and having the confidence to join the local tennis club.
She said: “Tennis helps with my confidence by knowing that I am strong enough to play a sport."
Jacqueline’s elder siblings, Anna Belle and Joshua, have played a key role in developing her positivity and belief.
Anna Belle, 19, said: “I can’t believe Jacky is graduating school soon. Good for her!
“I’m so proud of her with the tennis team and it just makes me happy because she has made so many new friends and they all love her.
“Jacky is a good example of what everyone should be like. She doesn’t care what anyone thinks and if she sees something she wants to do, you can’t tell her no.
“She’ll always try her best to accomplish it. She’s very inspiring.”
Jacqueline now dreams of majoring in nursing at Stanford University.
“I want to be a nurse because I grew up in a hospital helping my nurses take care of others,” Jacqueline said.
And her parents have no doubt she will succeed.
Paul said: “I feel very comfortable that she will grow up to be successful in anything she does.
“She is the most amazing person I’ve ever known. To come across so many obstacles and still have confidence and perseverance - we’re really proud.
“She has dreams for the future and she is looking forward to it.”
Evelyn added: “The future is bright.”