Nine-year-old Ana Ochoa has been through more hardships than anyone two or three times her age could have imagined.
From being neglected as a child and left in a burning hot vehicle as a 5-year old to being diagnosed with a rare genetic disorder that will render her blind within the next decade, Ana has been through it all.
Ana has been blessed with two guardian angels, though. Her adoptive mother, Marcela Ochoa, and her rescuing police officer, Beau Wagnar, saved her from what her life could have been. With her angels by her side, Ana has weathered any storm life has thrown her way, all the while doing so with a smile and contagious happiness.
“She is very resilient,” Marcela said. “The bad doesn’t define her. She still loves life and is happy to participate in everything she can.”
One hot summer day in 2018, with temperatures at around 115 degrees, Avondale police officers Wagnar and Joe Turrito were patrolling the Las Ligas area of Avondale — an area with high drug use and stolen vehicles. The partners spotted a vehicle parked under a tree with what looked to be a female inside of the car.
After approaching the vehicle, they saw four young children, Ana and her younger siblings — Emily, Ariel and TJ — inside a drug-ridden car, sweating profusely, with soiled diapers and no access to food or water.
After transporting the children to the hospital, the officers tried talking with Ana but were met with mumbles. At the time, the officers assumed it was because she didn’t want to talk to them, but that would wind up being far from the story.
After examinations, it was determined that Ana was deaf and, to boot, she had extremely poor eyesight.
To throw another wrench in the gears, Ana was diagnosed in 2020 with Usher syndrome, a genetic disorder that causes loss of hearing and eyesight. When she was found, Ana had already gone completely deaf and her eyesight had deteriorated severely beyond what a 5-year-old’s eyes should have been, adding yet another layer of challenges to this little girl’s already complicated life.
But Ana got a chance at life, as when she was placed into foster care she would meet Marcela, who would change Ana’s life forever.
“It’s amazing what Marcela has done,” Wagnar said. “She’s the one who saved Ana. I give all credit to Marcela for stepping up and then adopting her and saying, ‘Hey, look, I love this girl so much that I’m going to make sure that she does have a good life.’ And, she’s done that.”
Marcela and her husband Armando have stepped up. The couple has taken on full responsibility of Ana and have provided her with the most support possible, all aimed at improving her life.
They gave Ana a cochlear implant, allowing her the ability to hear and verbally communicate. They gave her glasses with heavy prescription, allowing Ana the ability to see. They put her in school to learn how to speak sign language, giving her the ability to communicate with other people, as well as read braille to consume knowledge, even without sight. They have taken her places that Ana didn’t even know existed, like the beach, to give her memories that she will hold for her entire life.
“Her life kind of started when she got here,” Marcela said. “She was oblivious to a lot of things going on in her surroundings. She wasn’t really living; she was just kind of in survival mode.”
Ana has taken her new life and is living it to the fullest. She now is actively trying anything and everything she can get her hands on, from playing soccer and swimming to dancing and even wanting to become a police K9 handler.
The Ochoas aren’t alone in caring and doing things to better Ana’s life, though. Wagnar and the Avondale Police Department still hold a great relationship with the Ochoas and are actively involved in Ana’s life.
Wagnar feels a special connection to Ana, and he even shows his support by attending Ana’s events, whether that be a soccer game or dance recitals.
“(Avondale police) have been great,” Marcela said. “They come to her ballet recitals, they go to her soccer games, so they’re definitely making an effort to let Ana know that she’s not alone and make sure she knows she’s part of everybody’s community now.”
With the onset of Usher already becoming apparent, the Ochoas wanted to give Ana a memory that will last an entire lifetime: a trip to Disneyland.
A GoFundMe page was started by the Ochoas, and it raised more than $22,000 for the trip. They will go to “the happiest place on Earth” in December.
“I still don’t think she understands what Disneyland is,” Wagnar said. “It’s just great to see.”
Although Ana’s life will be challenging the more her future progresses, she is more than capable of taking on whatever life throws at her, with that ever-present smile and contagious positive attitude. With her powerful support system behind her, Ana is unstoppable.
“We’re trying to just show her how life can be fun,” Marcela said. “The disability doesn’t have to define her. It’s not the only thing that’s out there. She can have fun. She can do everything that everybody else does.”