Debbie Bango didn’t expect her daughter to survive.
Mia Bango was born at 23 just weeks and was the length of a ballpoint pen. She weighed a mere 1 pound 6 ounces, making her one of the smallest preemies in the world in 1993, according to Bango. During eye surgery, she said her daughter technically died six times on the table, doctors bringing her back each time.
“There were only 10 in the world at the time that survived. She’s in a lot of medical books. She’s quite the miracle,” said Bango, who couldn’t touch her daughter for four months after her birth.
Mia didn’t escape her tumultuous infancy unscathed, though. When she was still in the neonatal unit at Albany Medical Center, she developed retinopathy of prematurity (ROP), which is when the retina detaches from the eye. Despite surgery, Mia is legally blind.
“I can see but after a certain distance everything gets blurry and when I take my glasses off it’s almost double everything,” said Mia. “It’s pretty difficult to put into words but at least I know I’m better off than actually blind. I’m thankful I got that little bit of sight.”
Mia hasn’t let her poor eyesight limit her. In fact, sometimes it pushes her to prove she’s no different than anyone else.
“It’s definitely different than being a kid with normal vision but honestly I don’t see myself as someone who was born with a disability, I don’t single myself out,” said Mia. “It was mainly my parents who helped me through this when I was growing up.”
Mia has already beaten the odds—she lived. But these days, she’s achieving more personal feats, though no less admirable.
She just finished her freshman year at Siena College and lived on campus in the dorms, a big step. She’s studying pre-law and hopes to help advocate for kids with disabilities.
On Tuesday, July 17, she was presented with the Ruth Walsh Smith Scholarship, a $2,000 award from the Northeastern Association of the Blind at Albany.
“I had to put in recommendations and … I had to write a small essay about what I wanted to do with the future,” said Mia.
The scholarship is presented to a legally blind woman who is pursuing higher education or career training.
Bango wants to become a lawyer but she also wants to give people the confidence to rise above any disability they might have.
“You can do whatever you want, you just have to get out there and advocate for yourself. You can’t just let people tell you ‘no;’ you have to push for things and have to fight,” said Mia. “Sometimes it might be difficult but that’s what life is about no matter who you are or what difficulties you have.”
In her case, she was lucky to have parents intent on getting her the services she needed to not only succeed but to thrive.
Debbie Bango quit her job to stay home with Mia, which allowed her to receive early intervention services. They sent her to St. Pius in Loudonville where the small, private school setting was better suited for her situation.
“There are many resources out there and parents need to be aware,” said Bango. “They have to ask a lot of questions and ask anybody and whoever you need to.”
And so far, Siena has proved to be the right college choice.
“The people are all nice and the teachers are accommodating,” said Mia. “Sometimes reading things on the board or … watching videos on a projector screen are a little more difficult but I’ve found ways around it, with tape recorders and getting access to videos ahead of time.”
Mia’s life today seems relatively normal, but taken as a whole, it’s anything but banal. In fact, her story was so rare, so unbelievable, that Oprah wanted to feature the family on her show some years back. But Mia, who also has been diagnosed with Asperger’s syndrome, never wanted to go.
“I guess it’s special. I haven’t heard of that many other people who have been in my situation, so it’s interesting,” said Bango.