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Human Interest

Phoenix Teen Who Was Born Without a Jaw and Has Never Spoken Finds His Voice: ‘I’m Helping People’

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Isaiah Acosta
Courtesy Torben Bernhard

Isaiah Acosta of Phoenix always dreamed about recording one of the rap songs he’d written, but there was one big problem: Born without a lower jaw, he has never been able to speak.

Then last year, while attending a Children’s Miracle Network function in Washington, D.C., as an ambassador for the Phoenix Children’s Hospital, Isaiah, 17, told several people via texting (his preferred method of communicating) that he wanted to become a rapper. 

One of those people, Topher Horman, a creative producer for Children’s Miracle Network, saw no reason why Isaiah’s dream couldn’t come true. 

Horman lined up a popular Phoenix rapper, Trap House (also known as Tikey Patterson), to work closely with Isaiah and record “Oxygen to Fly,” one of the teen’s songs about his struggle to find his voice while living with serious medical conditions. He also asked Torben Bernhard, a documentary film director, to tell Isaiah’s story of courage and resilience.

Trap House and Isaiah Acosta
Courtesy Torben Bernhard

“I thought that Isaiah’s incredibly rare, magnetic personality should be introduced to America in a visually intimate, real presentation of his confidence and power,” Horman tells PEOPLE. “He’s such a positive influence. America needs Isaiah right now.”

The results, released in March, have now gone viral, with more than 20 million people viewing the documentary and a YouTube music video of Isaiah dancing and rapping alongside Trap House.

In the song, Isaiah tells his story through powerful lyrics:

“I don’t care what people think of me/Proud and honored that they carry me/Jaw gone but I love myself/Like a lion to my family.”

“Could’ve died but I’m still here/Could’ve cried but I’m still here/Bullies try but I’m still here/Mother tries so I’m still here.”

Isaiah’s mother, Tarah Acosta, tells PEOPLE: “My son’s words have been brought to life. Writing is his hobby and his way of self-expression. If you ask him, he will say that he’s always had a voice. But the voice is inside him.”

“Now for the first time, the rest of the world can actually hear that voice,” she adds. “It’s a very emotional thing when I hear ‘Oxygen to Fly’ come on the radio here in Arizona. I cry with happiness every time I hear it.”

Isaiah and his family
Courtesy Torben Bernhard

Born with a condition called situs inversus, where internal organs are arranged in a mirror image of normal anatomy, Isaiah wasn’t expected to survive.

“He’d gone without oxygen for 15 minutes and I was told that even if he made it, he wouldn’t have any quality of life,” Tarah, 35, tells PEOPLE. “But Isaiah was a fighter — he beat the odds. And even though he can’t speak, he can think and he can hear just fine. So as he got older, he started writing as a way to express his feelings and communicate.”

Now a senior at Apollo High School, Isaiah developed a love for rap and hip-hop music when he was 15. 

“I connect with rap — I enjoy the energy of it,” he tells PEOPLE through email. “And I’ve always loved writing lyrics and quotes and putting down what bothers me into poems. Music has changed my life and now (with help from Trap House), I feel like I’m helping people with no voice.”

Courtesy Torben Bernhard

When Trap House first met Isaiah in a recording studio last year, “I was impressed with how social he is and how much he has overcome in his life to get to where he is today,” he tells PEOPLE. “I also loved what he’d written and could tell immediately that he had talent. It was an incredible experience to work with Isaiah and interpret his poetry to come across as a rap song.”

From start to finish, Isaiah was involved in every aspect of recording, says House.

“He picked the beat and he picked the production — I wanted the end result to be what he envisioned in his imagination,” he says. “With rap, you always hope to be able to speak for the voiceless. To be presented with an opportunity to literally do that has been amazing.”

As for Isaiah, he now dreams of a career in the music industry, writing songs or working in a recording studio, after he goes to college.

“I want to keep writing music and I want to help children who get bullied,” he tells PEOPLE. “I want to help fix the world in any way I can.”