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Her Son Wasn't Expected To Survive. Now He's Showing Her How To Live

When Isaiah Acosta was born, doctors told his mother, Tarah, that they didn't expect him to survive.
Mia Warren
When Isaiah Acosta was born, doctors told his mother, Tarah, that they didn't expect him to survive.

Twenty-one-year-old Isaiah Acosta was born with several health issues, including a rare condition called agnathia that left him without a lower jaw.

He sat down for a StoryCorps conversation in 2018 in Phoenix, Ariz., to talk with his mother, Tarah, about taking on life with more challenges than most.

Isaiah, who speaks by typing on an app on his phone that then translates his words into audio, described himself as "funny, wild, loving." His mom, 40, teased him: "You love to laugh, you're high maintenance."

But growing up, other kids in school made Isaiah aware of his physical differences.

"You and Dad raised me like a normal kid," he said. "But when I was in grade school, kids asked me, like, what's wrong with my face? Then I realized I look different."

Tarah asked her son why he has refused the idea of cosmetic jaw surgery.

"I like how God made me, and I don't want to change anything," Isaiah said. "I like the way that I am."

According to Tarah, Isaiah was without oxygen for about 15 minutes after he was born. The doctors told his parents that their son wouldn't last through the night. Isaiah asked his mom what went through her mind when he was born.

"I didn't see you as the baby with no jaw, and all the tubes and wires breathing for you," she said. "I just seen you, and you were my baby."

"We told the doctors to keep working on you and you kept fighting to be here."

It's why when Isaiah was about to graduate from high school in 2018, Tarah was that much more overcome with emotion.

"I mean, we were never supposed to see this day," she said. "And all the things that you are going through now are big moments for me, because I'd turned 18 right before I had you."

Unlike her son, Tarah never graduated high school or went to prom.

"I admire you so much," he told her. "Everything that I'm doing is for you guys."

In 2019, Isaiah gave a talk on a TEDx stage about taking power over how others choose to label you. He's also built a large following on his TikTok, where he raps, dances and shares his daily hurdles.

Tarah said she's inspired by her son's adventurous spirit.

"You want to do it all, whether it's scary or not scary," she said. "That's something that I've never done and I'm still trying to learn with you. You show me how to live."

Isaiah told her, "You drive me crazy 24/7, but I love you. I don't know what I would do without you."

"Thank you for not giving up on me."

Audio produced for Morning Edition by Jo Corona and Jud Esty-Kendall. NPR's Emma Bowman adapted it for the web.

StoryCorps is a national nonprofit that gives people the chance to interview friends and loved ones about their lives. These conversations are archived at the American Folklife Center at the Library of Congress, allowing participants to leave a legacy for future generations. Learn more, including how to interview someone in your life, at

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Jo Corona
Jud Esty-Kendall