Community News

2020 Recipient of the Winn/Byrd Award: Maria Isabel Rodríguez Ribero

Sep 21st, 2020

Congratulations to Maria Isabel Rodríguez Ribero! Maria is a mother, English teacher, master’s student, and community volunteer who lives in San Gil, Colombia. Now 33 years old, Maria was diagnosed at age 11. As a teenager, Maria remembers not understanding why her parents kept her inside of a bubble and away from the outside world. “I wanted to know about what made me different from my classmates and friends. There was very little information about Fanconi anemia (FA) available in Spanish. The information I did find was in English. So, what did I do? I learned English on my own.”

Maria and students Maria with her students

After taking the initiative to teach herself a new language, Maria discovered a new world of possibilities. By understanding more about FA, she could educate her doctors and get better care. Not only could she advocate for her own health, Maria was also able to connect with other people like her for the first time. She met Chris Byrd and Amy Winn at a Meeting for Adults with FA organized by the Fanconi Anemia Research Fund (FARF). Maria describes Chris and Amy as “beautiful souls” who helped her feel normal for the first time and who inspired her to make plans and set goals for her life.

This is a life lesson she now embodies in her work as a teacher and leader in the community. “When I was little, I was told I would die young, so I was not motivated to think about my future. I wanted to be a hematologist, but my doctors told me it wouldn’t be safe to work around sick people. So, I changed direction. I got my business administration degree and I became a mother.” She strives to teach her students that a seemingly insurmountable problem may sometimes present the best opportunity to learn. Maria encourages her students to see beyond today’s obstacles and look toward their goals. She is driven by her purpose to be of service to others, to be a better mother and citizen.

Maria accepts the 2020 Winn/Byrd Award