Published November 19, 2012
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Pirate ships, dragons, still life, a Bengal tiger. Inside Juan Agudelo's portfolio you'll find innocent drawings from a 20-year-old whose disabilities only made him stronger.
Agudelo was born with no arms and no legs in a Colombian hospital with little chance of surviving past birth. Today, he's on his way to achieving his American Dream of becoming an architect.
"The doctors gave me the option if I wanted to leave him in the hospital, I don't know for what but they told me to study him," his mother, Dora, told Fox News Latino. "I said no, he is my son."
Doctors told her the newborn would not survive if she took him home from the hospital. But they never accounted for the fight in little Agudelo.
“Well, what’s the problem of not having legs and arms? That has nothing to do with anything," Agudelo told Fox News Latino proudly. "If you are healthy, if you have the support of all of your family members, you have the opportunity to become someone in life.”
Agudelo has approached his portfolio each day since he was 6 years old with that positive attitude. The aspiring architect doesn't ask for help. He doesn't need it.
Each time he draws, he tucks a pencil neatly between his right elbow and his only left finger, eyes zeroed in on the paper. He flips the pencil, over, and over and over again, to erase any mistakes. Agudelo is a perfectionist.
“It’s been one of the things I’ve liked to do since I was a little kid," he said. "It really inspires me."
Life in Colombia was difficult for Agudelo and his mother. With little access to proper medical services, he was given wooden stumps as legs and sometimes would just crawl to and from school. But despite the ridicule he received from classmates, he continued to push himself - even learning to play soccer.
Desperate and determined to find a better life in the United States, his mother took to the media to get their story out about a decade ago. A nonprofit that provides medical care for children in need, called Healing for Children, answered the call.
Together both mom and son secured a six-month medical visa to the United States and, at 9 years old, Agudelo would be fitted for his first set of prosthetic legs.
"I believe I have the best mother in the world," he said. "Thanks to her I am where I am right now."
But Agudelo had to have several unexpected surgeries on his legs. It cost an extra $15,000 - beyond what the non-profit could offer.
Determined to get his legs, Agudelo sold his drawings and paintings at a one-man show in New Haven, Connecticut.
He not only raised enough money for the operation, he also raised enough to donate funds to the Healing for Children foundation.
Remarkably, when given an opportunity to get prosthetic arms, Agudelo said no.
“I don’t believe I need to have some prosthetic arms in order to perform in school or in order to do any kind of activities. That’s part of who I am,” he said. "I was born like that. I identify myself better like that.”
But he still faces challenges. His biggest one: learning English.
“I don’t really care about my disability, it has nothing to do with me, I just have to keep moving forward and achieve my goals," he said. "I have everything."
The trip to the United States, in 2002, eventually turned into a permanent stay after his mother married in the U.S. But while living in the states has offered Agudelo opportunities he never would have received in Colombia, he said it has been difficult because he has not been able to see his little brother, Sergio. The brothers have not seen each other in 10 years.
Agudelo hopes the job he lands will help him reunite with his brother, and help take care of his mother.