Ismael Torres-Castrodad

ismael story

His birth lead to a career making real change.

Making big dreams possible

“Dream big dreams” is what President Obama wrote in the signed copy of the Constitution he gave 13-year-old Ismael Torres-Castrodad in the Oval Office in 2016. “And that’s what I’ve been doing ever since—dreaming big and just watching those dreams come true,” Ismael says. What led to this life-altering experience? For that we need to go back to who everyone’s story begins with: mom.

When Ismael’s mom, Isamari Castrodad, was 33 weeks pregnant, she was hospitalized for having low amniotic fluid (the liquid that surrounds and protects an unborn baby throughout pregnancy). So, she turned to the March of Dimes website to educate herself and found information that let her confidently talk to her doctor about her pregnancy and the tests she might need.

At her next appointment, Isamari was anxious about her fluid levels and insisted on being re-checked, despite the doctor telling her everything was fine. As it turned out, everything wasn’t fine; her fluid was dangerously low again. Ismael was born 48 hours later by emergency Cesarean delivery, five weeks too soon. “My mom decided that she was not convinced—she knew that there was something else, and here I am thanks to that,” Ismael says.

Six days after Ismael was discharged, he developed jaundice, respiratory syncytial virus (the lung infection known as RSV), and pneumonia, and was re-hospitalized. “It was a very rough childhood…it was rough on me, it was rough on my mom,” Ismael recalls. Since then, Isamari made it her mission to learn all she could about preterm birth, becoming a March of Dimes volunteer and speaking out about how important it is for women to educate and advocate for themselves before, during, and after pregnancy.

While research is key to our goal of ending preventable maternal health risks and death, ending preterm birth, and closing the health equity gap, advocacy and education are just as essential. That’s why each year, March of Dimes selects a child and their family to represent our mission and share their story, a tradition dating to 1946—and Ismael was chosen as the 2016 March of Dimes Ambassador (the first Spanish-speaking one). He and his family spent the year on a cross-country tour, which included visiting NICUs, sharing their story, and even a stop at the White House. “It gave us a unique opportunity to make the program bilingual for the first time and reach a whole population—and that's the Latino population,” Ismael shares. That whole experience helped lead him to where he is today: a junior at George Washington University, studying political science, "which was very much influenced by my talk with Obama,” he adds.

It’s amazing how far Ismael has come. “He has a great heart, he knows what he’s been through, and I always ask him to pay it forward,” Isamari says. “Life has been good with you; you have to help others.” It’s safe to say that he will continue to do so.

“I want to work with this organization all my life to help people see the impact that we're doing,” Ismael says. “That's why I'm studying political science, that's why I'm interested in public policy—because I got to see how change actually gets done. And that's why I'm working so closely with March of Dimes.”

Ismael is, as Obama told him in 2016, “a very impressive young man.” (It’s true, it’s on film). We’re excited to see what comes next for Ismael, and to have even more passionate supporters join us in the fight for the health of all moms and babies.