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      Professor shares private world with students for life lessons

      Dr. Ana Laura Rodriguez teaches early childhood and education classes at the University of Texas at Brownsville.

      She's preparing tomorrow's educators in a unique way by allowing students into her personal world as a mother.

      Her 2-year-old son Roman is a child with special needs.

      He was born with Spina Bifida.

      It's a birth defect that effects spinal cord development.

      It can lead to learning, mobility and bladder problems.

      Dr. Rodriguez shares both her son's struggles and victories with students in hopes of teaching them how children with special needs are just like everyone else.

      Veronica Medellin has been inspired by her professor and turned to FNB Insurance Agency and Action 4 News to Pay it 4Ward.

      The surprise unfolds outside the professor TMs university office.

      "You have a surprised look on your face," Action 4's Ryan Wolf said to her.

      "Yes!" the professor said. "What's going on?"

      "I don't want to tell you why we're here, I want Veronica to tell you," Ryan said.

      Veronica clutched onto the professor's hands and began to speak from the heart.

      "You have been a true role model for all of your students," she said. "I love your teaching styles. Not only that but I admire you for sharing your personal struggles with the students and making learning meaningful. You truly bring out the best of what an educator should be and I aspire to be something close to what you are. At this point it's my honor to Pay it 4Ward."

      Karen Gonzalez with FNB Insurance Agency is standing by to award the cash prize.

      "Your strength as a mother and a professor is incredible and it's obvious to see the impact that you've made," the agency spokeswoman said. "We hope that your story can inspire others. On behalf of FNB Insurance and Action 4 News, here's $400."

      Tears start to form in the professor's eyes.

      She calls it a moment she'll never forget.

      "Overwhelmed and very appreciative," she said. "I love what I do. I love teaching and I love being a mom. I'm so happy that Vero thinks that I'm doing a great job because sometimes I feel like I'm not."

      "What makes you want to share the story of Roman in class?" Ryan asked.

      "I think that when you open yourself up as an educator you make a connection with your students," she answered. "I want people to see, I want my students to see me for what I am. I have so many hopes and dreams for my son and I want to make sure that when he's in school that he's treated with that respect."

      And that is perhaps the most important lesson of all.

      There's limited care and resources for Spina Bifida in the Rio Grande Valley, according to Dr. Rodriguez.

      She plans to use her Pay it 4Ward prize to help with mounting medical bills for Roman's health care needs.

      October is Spina Bifida awareness month.

      For more information about the disabling birth defect, click on the link below. Click here to learn more about Spina BifidaClick here to join Ryan Wolf TMs Facebook PageClick here to follow Ryan Wolf on TwitterClick here to nominate somebody for the Pay it 4Ward prize