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Catalina Escobar, Colombian Philanthropist, Chosen As One Of CNN's Top Ten Heroes Of 2012

09/22/2012 10:24 am ET | Updated Sep 26, 2012

You don't need superpowers to be a hero.

Which might explain the popularity of the annual ‘CNN Heroes’ list of “everyday people” making a difference in the world. This week the network announced the Top Ten Heroes for 2012 -- representing six countries and four continents -- among which is Colombian Catalina Escobar.

Escobar, 42, was a successful business woman with an international trading company until two deaths changed her life in October 2000.

The first, a 12 day-old boy who died in her arms while working as a volunteer at a maternity clinic in Cartagena, Colombia. A life that could’ve been saved if the teenage mother could’ve raised the money for a treatment.

"His mother [needed] $30 that I had in my pocket. I will never forget that," Escobar told CNN. "It was a preventable death."

The second, the loss of her 16 month-old son after he fell from the balcony of her home.

Overwhelmed with grief and determined to save the lives of children in the city, Escobar sold her company and founded the Juan Felipe Gomez Escobar Foundation (named after her late son). Within the first five years of her work, the Colombian philanthropist helped reduce the infant mortality rate at the hospital by 67 percent.

After being released from the hospital, however, the children returned to the city's slums with their teenage mothers, a poverty cycle Escobar now aims to break.

"When a girl gets pregnant, she drops out of school. ... Next year, she's going to be pregnant again," Escobar told CNN. "She's repeating the same patterns of the mother, the grandmother."

For empowering more than 2,000 teen mothers with education and counseling, Escobar (and the other 9 finalists) will receive $50,000. At the December 2 “CNN Heroes: An All-Star Tribute,” one will be chosen -- based on the public’s vote -- to receive $250,000 to put towards their work.

But Escobar isn’t the first Latin American to be dubbed a ‘CNN Hero’ -- seven other Latinos have been honored since the award’s inception in 2008.

Among them are Elena Durón Miranda, a woman saving Argentine children from rummaging through trash dumps by providing education and activities, and Mexico’s Oscar Aranda, who patrols Puerto Vallarta’s beaches at night to prevent poachers from taking sea turtles’ eggs.

Voting closes on November 28, check out CNN’s Top Ten Heroes for 2012 and vote at CNNHeroes.com.

CNN Hero Nominees

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