LONG BEACH (CBSLA.com) — She was controversial before she was even born.

Marissa Ayala became a national media sensation more than two decades ago when her parents conceived her hoping to give birth to a bone marrow donor for her leukemia-stricken sister.

Ayala, Wednesday, became a college graduate.

Now 23, she graduated from Cal State Long Beach with a degree in speech pathology. “I am so excited. It’s a little bit surreal. Like it’s not happening but it is.  It will probably hit me when I cross that stage,” she said.

After receiving her diploma, she said, “I can’t thank my parents and my sister and my loved ones enough for all their support and love because I wouldn’t have been able to deal without them.”

Ayala’s story sparked a national debate, with many critics questioning the ethics of conceiving a child for the purpose of finding a bone marrow donor.

Ayala’s then-16-year-old sister, Anissa had leukemia and her condition was becoming increasingly grave. Doctors had been unable to find a suitable donor, so her parents — Mary and Abraham — followed a friend’s suggestion and decided to have another child, even though there was no guarantee the baby would be a suitable donor.

Complicating matters was the fact that Abraham Ayala had previously undergone a vasectomy.

But the couple beat the odds, giving birth to Marissa in 1990. The gamble paid off. Anissa is now 41 — happy, healthy, married.

The Ayala’s tale was turned into a made-for-television movie in 1993, called “For the Love of My Child: The Anissa Ayala Story.” (Priscilla Lopez and Tony Perez played the Ayala parents)

Marissa beamed as she received her diploma. The entire family was on hand to cheer her on.

“It’s our dream come true,” said her mother, Mary. “Our prayers have been answered. We’re just very blessed.”

Marissa gushed about her relationship with her older sister, now named Anissa Brackett.

“When I think about it, I just .. can’t ask for a better sister, a better friend, a better second mom,” she said.

Brackett told KCAL9’s Amber Lee that her sister had a big impact, especially where awareness is concerned. “It’s incredible,” she said.

(©2013 CBS Local Media, a division of CBS Radio Inc. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. Wire services contributed to this report.)


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