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Against Nearly Impossible Odds, Ashley Jagodzinski's College Bound

ROCHESTER, Minn. (WCCO) -- Three open heart surgeries, a brain hemorrhage and an unrelated genetic disease -- all before she was 18.

Ashley Jagodzinski of Rochester hasn't let anything stop her from recently from Minnesota Virtual Academy.

She was often bullied for missing school, but she overcame that, too.

"I hope to one day be an inspirational speaker and tell my story forever," she said. "Just like Rudy Ruettiger."

At 20, she carries herself more like a 40-year-old. From a young age she said she had no choice but to mature quickly.

"You have to grow up really fast, especially when you're 12 years old and you just had open heart surgery," she said.

Jagodzinski's endured three open heart surgeries.

Before she was born, doctors discovered a heart defect. At 6 months she had a mechanical valve put in.

It's a scar she calls her "badge of courage." Then she received news of an unrelated diagnosis -- she had juvenile rheumatoid arthritis or JRA.

"I was 2 years old," she said. "I had a fever, I had rashes and most of my hair was falling out. I was very, very sick."

JRA attacks your joints, making them swollen and painful.

At 17, Jagodzinski suffered a stroke, and a month later she had seizures.

And just one week after getting out of the hospital, a brain hemorrhage.

That's when her family decided to move to Rochester to be closer to the Mayo Clinic. All the while Jagodzinski attended middle school when she could.

"There were always those little snide comments where someone would tell you how much school you'd missed," she said.

Jagodzinski said now, years later, she's grateful for those bullies.

"It really was hard," she said. "But those kids aren't being interviewed right now, you know? It just made me who I was."

When Jagodzinski's JRA acted up to the point where she was no longer mobile -- she discovered online schooling.

"Within the first few weeks, it was the perfect school for me," she said.

Working upwards of six hours a day in front of the computer, Jagodzinski graduated with honors.

Jagodzinski made the decision to tell her story at her graduation, delivering the commencement speech.

She will attend Winona State University to wrap up a degree that she's already earned credits toward.

She hopes to be a motivational speaker.

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