By Janet Tappin Coelho
A teen born with microcephaly, who doctors warned would never walk, will become the first sufferer in the world to strut the catwalk as a model.
Ana Victoria Lago, 17, who lives with her family in Manaus, north Brazil, has an abnormally shaped head and an under-developed brain because of her condition.
She was snapped up by a modelling agency based in the city on Saturday [4 Feb] and hopes to make history by debuting on the runway at the Rio de Janeiro Fashion Week in June.
Mum, Viviane Lima, 36, was invited by the Beleza Manauara (BM) Model’sl Agency, to send in her daughter’s portfolio after fashion scouts spotted her pictures online.
Viviane had posted images on social network from a professional photo-shoot to mark Ana Victoria’s up-coming eighteenth birthday.
Now the aspiring model, who has speech and learning difficulties and the mind of a 10-year-old from stunted mental development, is poised to become a role model for other children with the ‘shrunken head’ syndrome.
BM Model’s Agency boss Creusa Rodrigues, said: “When I saw Ana Victoria’s photos I was blown away at how natural she was in front of the camera and how her personality shone through with her smile.
“She shows, with simplicity, a beauty in her disability and why we should not judge.
“I saw the potential in Ana Victoria as soon as I met her. I signed her up straight away. I’m aiming to get her on television and bookings for magazine and poster ads.
“I have decided to put her name forward for the Rio Fashion week as I believe she will be the stand-out star in the parade if she is chosen to take part.”
Next month Ana Victoria stars in a new photographic exhibition, ‘Arte sem preconceito’ (Art without prejudice) which is being staged by the model agency in the Amazon city.
The event is about challenging discrimination using images of children with disabilities.
At least 50 designers will be showcasing their work at this year’s event and 20 models with deficiencies will be selected to wear their creations.
Mother-of-three, Viviane, said: “Ana Victoria is an amazing young girl. When she was born, her little body was so rigid and doctors said she would never have the flexibility to walk.
“Today she loves to dance and has the rhythm and fluidity of a normal healthy person. She is forever strutting along an imaginary catwalk in the front room. So, I organised a special photo session in a studio as a treat for her eighteenth birthday which is next month.
“I never imagined that Ana Victoria would become a runway model and role model. But throughout her life she has proved to everyone that microcephaly is not a death sentence.”
Friends donated their services for free doing Ana Victoria’s hair and make-up, giving her designer clothes for the shoot and taking the photos.
“She was so excited. She posed up a storm and kept on saying how much she loved it and wanted to do it again and again.
“Now it looks like she will be able to live her dream.”
Ana Victoria was born with a head circumference of 30.5cm and her 15-year-old sister Maria Luiza who also has X had a head measurement of 27.5cm at birth.
According to the World Health Organisation, children born with a head size of 32cm or less suffer mild to severe symptoms of microcephaly and other health complications.
Ana Victoria’s breakthrough step towards the fashion runway comes as Brazil continues to deal with the aftermath of the devastating microcephaly outbreak which has been linked to the mosquito-borne Zika virus.
Since 2015 the South American nation has had 2,289 confirmed cases of babies with microcephaly with a further 3,144 under investigation.
Ana Victoria and Maria Luiza’s microcephaly is not Zika related but was caused by a genetic defect at birth.
Viviane, whose third daughter, Julia Fernanda, 11, was born healthy following her second marriage, said: “I was 18 when I had Ana Victoria and doctors said she would be in a wheelchair all her life, she wouldn’t talk and her motor skills would be severely compromised.”
Physicians also predicted the same crippling disabilities for Maria Luiza.
But Viviane said as a teenage mum she ‘was too young and naive to fully understand the implications of what was ahead’ and refused to believe the doctors’ prognosis.
Instead she set about stimulating her children’s movements.
Physiotherapy and speech therapy are essential for babies with microcephaly as this helps promote valuable life-long learning skills.
Viviane said: “Every time I bathed my baby daughters I stimulated their muscles, massaging their limbs and stretching out and moving their little arms and legs in the water.
“When I was breast-feeding, I got them to feed by tickling their feet with a feather.
“It sounds simple but these activities contributed to 60 per cent of what my daughters can do today. Ana Victoria started walking at 14 months and today she even roller skates.””
With the shocking spike in the numbers of babies born with microcephaly in Brazil, Viviane set up a self-help support group, Maes do Anjos Unidos, two years ago, and shares her experiences online with over 300 mothers of children with microcephaly.
Viviane added: “Ana Victoria is really looking forward to a new chapter in her life that will bring her respect and recognition as a normal member of society.
“I believe she will make a real mark in the modelling world because of her beautifully infectious and unforgettable personality.
For information and bookings of Ana Victoria contact here