Anissa Ayala

updated 11/28/1994 AT 01:00 AM EST

originally published 11/28/1994 AT 01:00 AM EST

SIX years ago, their 16-year-old daughter Anissa, unable to find a bone-marrow donor, faced certain death from leukemia. Mary and Abe Ayala felt they had only one option left: They would try to create a donor by having another child. Abe, then 44, and Mary, 41, were aware there was no guarantee that the baby's marrow would match Anissa's—neither their own nor their 18-year-old son Airon's was suitable.

What the Walnut, Calif., family wasn't prepared for was the furor their decision would ignite. Medical ethicists decried the plan. Letter writers blasted the family. There were threatening phone calls. Still, Mary and Abe were not going to sit by and watch their daughter die. "My parents did the only thing they could do," says Anissa. "I look on them as heroes."

Their determination paid off. Even before Marissa-Eve was born on April 4, 1990, amniocentesis and tissue-typing tests revealed that her marrow was a match. Fourteen months later, with Marissa-Eve under anesthesia, the transfer procedure was performed. Now the flow of ugly letters has trailed off, the public debate has died down—and the Ayalas have three healthy children. "We knew it was the right thing to do, no matter what people said," says Abe, owner of a speedometer repair business. "We thought we were going to lose a daughter, and now we have two."

Today, Marissa-Eve is a mischievous 4-year-old—one who "has two moms," says the doting Anissa, 22. With her disease in complete remission, Anissa is plowing headlong into life. Eight months after the procedure, she landed a job as a customer-service rep at a local bank. On June 5, 1992, Anissa married carpet-cleaning business owner Brian Espinosa, 27. Because of her chemotherapy and radiation treatments, doctors have told Anissa that it's unlikely she can conceive. But she's not discouraged. "God has done one miracle for us," she says. "We're praying that He may do another."

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