EXCLUSIVE: Cancer victim who sang for Pope Francis speaks
She is the inspirational cancer patient with the voice of an angel, who reduced Pope Francis to tears with her stunning rendition of Ave Maria during his visit to a children’s hospital in Mexico City. Now MailOnline can reveal the deeply moving story of 15-year-old Alexia Garduño, who captured hearts all over the world when she serenaded the pontiff with the Catholic hymn.
Alexia, who has never had singing lessons and instead developed her beautiful voice while watching Disney movies, told how she 'sang from her soul' as the pope approached her, and was left '100pc sure' that she will now survive the grueling disease that is attacking her young body.
Speaking from her hospital bed in Mexico City, following a further round of chemotherapy, she told MailOnline: ‘I felt a new hope that I haven’t felt since before my diagnosis before Christmas last year. After meeting Pope Francis I’m now 100 per cent positive I’m going to survive.'
Describing the 'beautiful' moment she sang, Alexia said: ‘I’ve never had the courage to sing in public, not even in front of my family. Since before I can remember, I would only sing along to Snow White when I thought no one else was listening.
‘But when Pope Francis stood in front of me and looked at me with such care, the music just came out naturally.
‘I sat back in my wheelchair and began to sing,' she told MailOnline. 'I saw him start to cry, and so I began to cry as well.
'The whole room went silent and I felt as if it were just the two of us alone together. I felt a sense of peace and tranquility that I have never experienced before.'
Alexia, who was diagnosed with osteosarcoma - a form of bone cancer - last November, will undergo surgery to remove the tumour on February 25.
She said her meeting with Pope Francis has brought her out of a very dark time in her young life.
‘I was scared of the operation, it’s an invasive surgery that will result in most of my knee being removed,' she said. ‘But after meeting Pope Francis I’m now 100 per cent positive I’m going to survive.'
She added: ‘I’d love to become a singer in the future and perhaps once I’ve gotten over this disease I will be able to.'
Late last year, Alexia, who attends Vista Hermosa private school in the west of Mexico City, complained of an ache in her left leg and suffered fainting fits.
After passing out during an afternoon of sport at the school, her teacher knew there was something seriously wrong.
‘We took her to our local doctor,' said her father Gabriel, who owns a glass and crystal business in the affluent Lomas de Chapultepec district of the capital.
The doctor didn’t like what he saw and referred the then 14-year-old to a paediatric oncologist at ABC Hospital.
‘It was a horrifying moment when we received her prognosis,' said her mother Paloma Aladro, who has nursed Alexia and stood by her second daughter’s side throughout her illness.
‘It seemed so unjust for a young girl, on the cusp of womanhood, to have been afflicted like this’.
Alexia started chemotherapy immediately as the doctors hoped to kill the aggressive bone marrow cancer in its early stages.
Nevertheless, the tumour inside the marrow of her femur, the toughest bone in the human body, was large and an operating date was set for February 25.
Alexia, who was undergoing chemotherapy on her fifteenth birthday in December, went through ‘the darkest period of her life’, and said there were times when the strength to continue was tested by the chemotherapy.
‘I’m just a normal teenage girl. I like Taylor Swift, Instagram and Snapchat,' she told MailOnline, speaking from her hospital bed where she relies on an intravenous drip, heart monitor and leg brace. ‘I couldn’t understand why any of this was happening to me’.
It was then that her father, heartbroken at the sight of his youngest daughter’s suffering and the thought of losing her, jumped into action.
‘When I heard that Pope Francis would be visiting a children’s hospital in Mexico City I knew I had to get Alexia there,' he told MailOnline, trembling with emotion following his daughter’s meeting with the pontiff.
‘I called everyone I could think of to ask for my daughter to be present,' he said. ‘It was only the day before that I got the call telling us we could be present.'
Only Alexia, who is a patient at the private American British Cowdray Hospital in another part of the capital, and her father were allowed to attend, and they were in place early, Alexia in her wheelchair, ready to receive him.
She added: ‘I wanted to sing for him, and so I practiced in my hospital bed while I underwent chemotherapy. That made it more difficult but I was determined to be ready’.
The Pope’s children’s hospital visit took place late on the Sunday afternoon, following his mass to 400,000 people in the dangerous district of Ecatepec.
‘I was so nervous while I was waiting, and I didn’t know if I would even get the chance to see him, let alone meet him,' she said.
‘But when he came over I knew I had to take my chance and I sang from my soul, afterwards I was so happy and everyone from the First Lady to the nurses were congratulating me and taking pictures with me.
‘I felt a new hope that I haven’t felt since before my diagnosis before Christmas last year.'
Alexia sang Schubert’s version of the catholic Ave Maria hymn, the video of which has been seen all over the world since Sunday.
‘It’s a song I really love, and one I know best’, she said.
After her performance, Alexia spent ten minutes talking with the hospital staff, who congratulated her and took pictures with the young patient.
‘Everyone was so nice to me afterwards, and I felt such joy after my experience, that I felt more blessed than I ever have done,' she said, wiping away tears at the memory.
But following her audience with the Pope, Alexia has revealed that her first words to her waiting father were less spiritual.
‘The first thing she said was that the Pope smells wonderful,' said Alexia’s mother, who was reduced to tears by the Pope’s blessings of her sick daughter.
‘He smells fresh and sweet,' said Alexia, still glowing with happiness following her experience.
Yet Alexia’s presence at the Federico Gomez Children’s Hospital in Mexico City was a surprise to the medical staff who had never seen her before and they wondered whether she was an angel.
‘It came as a shock when this young girl who we didn’t know began to sing for the Pope,' said Dr Jose Alberto Garcia, the director general of the Federico Gomez children’s hospital who oversaw the Pope’s visit.
‘We knew she wasn’t a patient at the hospital and she disappeared shortly afterwards, so it was all quite a mystery.'
Guadalupe Garcia, the head nurse at the paediatric unit, added: ‘A lot of the nurses thought she was an angel.
'We had never seen her before, and her voice brought so much joy to everyone who heard it that it seemed like a miracle.'
Following Alexia’s performance for the pontiff, it was her sister who wrote to the Catholic News Service revealing her sister’s identity.
‘All the newspapers have been looking for me since it happened,' she said. ‘It makes me feel like Cinderella in the wonderful movies I loved to sing along to as a child.'
Alexia’s consultant at the ABC Hospital, Dr Alberto Olaya, says that hopes are high for Alexia’s recovery.
‘Alexia has responded well to the chemotherapy and following the tumour’s removal next week, we expect to see a complete recovery,' he told MailOnline.
Pope Francis also blessed another patient in the cancer ward, nine-month-old Thalia Gonzalez who has undergone chemotherapy for leukaemia since she was four months old.
‘It was a very funny experience,' said her mother Berenice. ‘Pope Francis took her in his arms and took the dummy out of her mouth and kissed her.
'Normally she hates losing her dummy and will make a fuss, but when the Pope did it she just stared blankly at him.'
‘It was a mini miracle for us,' she said laughing and kissing her baby girl.
Luz Ramos, a 13-year-old cancer patient in the hospital, didn’t get the opportunity to meet the Pope, as the hall he visited was too crowded.
‘I had photographers and other visitors pushing me out of the way,' she told MailOnline in the ceremony room beside the paediatric cancer ward.
‘I don’t have the strength to barge through a crowd, and so I was forced to the back away from the Pope.'
Suffering from lymphocytic leukaemia for fourteen months, Luz lives in the hope of one day ringing the bell beside the cancer ward, a traditional ceremony in the children’s hospital that the Pope witnessed on Sunday.
‘It’s a ceremony for when a child recovers from their cancer,' said Dr Garcia, who has been reduced to tears every time he has witnessed it.
‘The patients ring the bell as loud as they can to let heaven know that they have recovered,' he said. 'As well as to give their fellow patients hope of also pulling through.'