Surgery for Antonia

August 1, 2008 12:34:22 AM PDT
Those who know her say she's a go-getter ... A young woman who likes to do things on her own. But today Antonia Rivera is asking for help. She wants to change a part of herself that is holding her back and caused her pain her entire life.Antonia Rivera has gotten used to the pointing and the stares she gets as she walks down the street. The 23-year old was born with a benign tumor on her face and throat called lymphangioma.

"The lymphatic system is the one that cleans the system; it's like the janitor of your system. Goes in there and cleans everything out-- the diseases, the bacterias the bugs," says Rivera's doctor Jose Bautista of the Bautista Medical Group.

This rare vascular disease affects one in ten-thousand people. It usually causes respiratory problems and serious infections.

Antonia's mother was told her baby girl would not live past the age of five. "You ask yourself why-- what happened? And there is no explanation."

Antonia has undergone more than 10 surgeries-- and her tongue has been partially removed. But the worst growing up was the teasing from her classmates.

"I was always made fun of-- I didn't have any friends," says Antonia Rivera.

Antonia has trouble speaking ... She breathes through a trachea ... and is fed through a gastric tube inserted in her intestines.

Liduvina Rivera says her daughter rarely complains-- but her private suffering has been painful to watch. "I would often see her hit her own face, with tears in her eyes, as she got ready for school."

Yet Antonia pushed forward. She graduated from school and recently got an A.S. degree in business administration. But she's had a hard time finding a job.

"She's a productive lady-- she's ready to go to work-- and she's having a hard time finding a job. Once we get her repaired she's going to be able to get a job and even get married," says doctor Bautista with a smile.

Bautista is making a plea to his colleagues to help Antonia by donating their services and removing the tumor. "She has Medi-cal, Blue Cross-- hopefully we can them to pay part of it, and if not, we're going to do fund-raisers, but we are going to get the surgery done."

Antonia's biggest wish is that they find a cure, so others don't have to go through what she's been through. And for herself? "I want to become independent," says Antonia, a tear rolling down her face.

"She's my hero," says Dr. Bautista. "Primarily because she has never given up. She said 'I am going to educate myself; I'm going to show the world that I can do it myself'."

Doctor Jose Bautista hopes a team of surgeons and specialists will donate their services-- to help Antonia. He's also setting up a fund on her behalf through the Central Valley Research Center. If you'd like to help, call the Bautista Medical Group at (559) 445-0391.

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