Oprah's All-Time Favorite Guest Revealed
As an only child growing up in Venezuela, Jacqui lived the good life. She was beautiful and smart, and she loved to dance and hang out with her friends. In college, she studied engineering with the hope of one day taking over her father's manufacturing business. She also had dreams of getting married and having children. In August 1999, Jacqui said goodbye to her parents in Venezuela and moved to Texas to study English.
Just one month later, tragedy struck. Jacqui was on her way home from a birthday party when the car she was in was hit by a high school student driving drunk. Jacqui's legs were pinned under the dashboard while the car erupted in flames. "When Jacqui was engulfed by the flames, she was screaming and moaning and wailing an almost inhuman sound that I'd never heard another person make," a paramedic who was on the scene says.
Jacqui was on fire for close to a minute before they could free her from the car. She was burned beyond recognition—her skin, her hair and her face had melted away—and she was unconscious for 10 months. Once fiercely independent, Jacqui's life now revolved around hospitals, doctors and an endless search to rebuild her badly burned face and body.
When Jacqui talked to Oprah four years later, she told her that in her dreams she was still whole and beautiful. "I feel...of course not physically, but inside—I feel like the same person," Jacqui said. She also told Oprah that she was glad she had survived the accident and that she only allowed herself to cry for five minutes a day.
Over the years, Jacqui has undergone more than 120 operations and says she has been struggling with chronic depression and the changes in her social life. "Some friends are gone; other friends still call me. But, no, it's not the same," she says.
In her dreams today, Jacqui says she still sees her old face and body. "It's kind of difficult because I have this physical appearance, but inside, [I am] the Jacqui I was before," she says. "So it's difficult to understand that my face is different, my body is different...because I'm the same, you know?"
Mattie was born with a rare form of muscular dystrophy, and he moved around with the help of a wheelchair and oxygen tanks. His mother, Jeni, also suffers from the debilitating disease and unknowingly passed it on to all four of her children—Mattie was her only child who lived past the age of 4.
Mattie wasn't bound by his physical limitations, and his brilliant mind allowed his spirit to soar. He used his incredible gift of insight to write poetry he called "Heartsongs," extending hope to people of all ages. "I really think I'm here for a purpose, because in my life I've had so many close calls to dying and I've come through them all," Mattie said. "I figured I have a purpose and I have to carry out that purpose."
On June 22, 2004, Mattie died in the arms of his mother at the age of 13. A few days later in his Maryland hometown, Oprah joined hundreds of Mattie's admirers to celebrate his life. When Mattie's hero, former President Jimmy Carter, spoke to the crowd, he said, "We have known kings and queens. We've known presidents and prime ministers. But the most extraordinary person whom I have ever known in my life was Mattie Stepanek."
"I was going to end the show in the 20th year, and Mattie sent me an email saying, 'I know you're planning to retire your show on its 20th anniversary. It is my opinion that you should wait, to stop on its 25th anniversary, and let me explain why.'" Oprah says. "What's so interesting is that he ends the email saying, 'I'll let you think on it. And, of course, it's only my opinion, but sometimes I get feelings about things and I have one about this. I think it's good for the world and good for you.'" Oprah says he was right for all those reasons.
Mattie's mom, Jeni, says that he felt a connection to Oprah even before he met her. When he was 6 years old, with only a nickel to spend, he picked up a 5-cent book at a thrift store that said "Meet Oprah Winfrey—a self-made woman of many talents." Jeni says Mattie didn't even know who Oprah was at the time, but after reading her story, he was convinced that they were supposed to be in each other's lives. "What impressed him after he read the book was that he said that you understand what it means to live beyond an expectation, and that was what he was trying to do," Jeni tells Oprah. "A child who's supposed to die the day he was born that wants to leave a legacy that touches millions."
Jeni says people would be surprised to hear that Mattie was just an ordinary kid who lived an extraordinary life. "He was as witty as he was wise. He was a great practical joker," she says. Jeni says she loves remembering her son, which made her book easy to write. "When I miss Mattie, what I do is think about how I can take what I'm missing and be that for somebody else," she says. "So writing this book allowed me to reconnect to everything that I loved, that I celebrated."
In her book, Jeni also shares Mattie's final words: "Do not breathe simply to exist."
As a young girl in rural Zimbabwe, Tererai lived without running water and electricity. Although she was desperate to learn, she only attended two terms of school before she was forced to marry at age 11. In 1991, Tererai met a woman from Heifer International and told her what her greatest dream was: to move to America and get her PhD. The woman looked at Tererai and said, "If you desire those things, it is achievable." Tererai's mother later encouraged her to write her dreams down, so Tererai wrote them on piece of paper, placed them in a tin box and buried them under a rock.
By 1998, her dream started to come true. Tererai moved to Oklahoma with her husband and five children. Just three years later, she earned a bachelor's degree in agricultural education. In 2003—the same year her husband was deported for abuse—Tererai obtained her master's degree. After every achievement, Tererai returned home to Zimbabwe, unearthed her tin of dreams and checked off each goal she accomplished, one by one.
Today, Tererai is happily remarried and had made the fourth dream that she wrote down come true as well—she was awarded her PhD!
When she left her village to fulfill her dreams, Tererai says everyone was happy for her—they even helped pay for her flight to America by selling goats, corn and chickens. Today, Tererai wants to give back to her village and is trying to build a school so that future generations don't have to go through the same thing she did.
Help support the rebuilding of the school in Tererai's village by purchasing one of her T-shirts at Savethechildren.org.
Oprah says she has been so moved by Tererai's story that she is donating $1.5 million to rebuild the primary school in her village with the help of Save the Children! "Since we all know education isn't just about bricks and motar, Save the Children will spend three years working with teachers, children and parents in the area to improve literacy and basic education," Oprah says. "So ultimately, 4,000 children will have a better education because of you, Dr. Trent!"
Watch Tererai get the surprise of her life