By Shannine O’Neill



THIS WOMAN was told she should be placed in a nursing home after a nearly-deadly stroke at 14 but defied them all and taught herself to walk again.

Full time student Dionna Zupparo (26) from Rochester, New York, USA had a life-altering stroke on November 2, 2011 at just 14 years old caused by a blood clot in the left side of her brain.

The stroke was sudden and unexpected, leaving Dionna in hospital for three weeks while she recovered from the devastating effects of the stroke.

She suffered from loss of speech, having a condition called homonymous hemianopia – when both eyes go half blind – and having hemiplegia, which meant the entire right side of her body was immobile.

When the stroke first happened, Dionna had an emergency craniectomy to relieve the pressure in her brain after becoming completely unresponsive.

Terrifyingly, Dionna flatlined three times during this procedure and has had to have eight revisions of the surgery over the past 11 years.

After she was released from the hospital, Dionna still had her recurring speech, sight and physical problems, leaving her permanently in a wheelchair and doctors telling her that she had slim-to-no chance of walking unassisted again.

Dionna had to go through three years of therapy before she could walk unassisted again. NEW YORK, US

However, through years of intense physical, occupational, and language therapy, Dionna was able to overcome the doctor’s harsh estimations and walk unassisted, drive, and even complete a higher educational degree.

To achieve this, Dionna’s mother researched ways to save her daughter from having to spend her days in a care home and came across the Taub CIT Therapy Clinic located in Birmingham, Alabama, USA.

While at this clinic, Dionna underwent intense physical therapy under the instruction of Doctor Edward Taub, where they performed Constraint Induced Therapy, in which participants restrict the able limb in order for the patient to be forced to use their disabled limb, rebuilding the pathways that are needed in order to recover.

Dionna went four times to perform this therapy for up-to eight gruelling and intense hours per day.

Dionna then went to Marquette University in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, USA, for a total of six visits for intense speech and language therapy for five-hours per day.

These intense therapies were on-and-off for over five-years, and it took over three-years for Dionna to be able to walk without an AFO brace on.

Dionna is able to do anything anyone else can, just differently because of her stroke. NEW YORK, US

“It took a lot of determination. Many people in my life tell me I am the most positive person they know as I am determined not to let my disability control my life,” she said.

“They told me the odds of me walking unassisted were slim to none and even suggested I be placed into a nursing home.

“Through years of intense physical, occupational, and language therapy at clinics all over the US, I have overcome the worst of the impairments.

“I can walk, run, swim, drive a car, and I can talk well enough that my family compares it to speaking with someone where English is not their native language.

“I have to wear a brace and my right hand has very limited use.”

Although Dionna describes herself as extremely grateful for her opportunity to have healed in such a way, and usually views life in a positive manner, she can’t help but mourn what she has missed over the years because of her ailments.

Before she had the stroke, Dionna was an active teen, playing basketball, setting records with her swimming, and wanted to be a doctor.

All of her dreams and aspirations were taken from her by the stroke, leaving her isolated from her peers.

“Originally, I wanted to be a doctor when I grew up,” she said.

Dionna remains positive and always tries to look on the bigger picture rather than dwell on the past. NEW YORK, US:

“I missed out on continuing my career as an athlete. I played basketball and was a swimmer before the incident and I was a freshman swimmer pulled up to varsity, and I was setting records.

“All of that ended after my stroke, instead of doing things normal kids did, I spent my years going to therapy.

“I am grateful to have done so; however, I lost most of my friends and I went from being very popular to being the kid no one wanted to associate with.

“I feel like now the biggest thing I missed out on was the social aspect of being ‘normal’. I did not have a normal college experience, I never went to parties, no one invited me to places and I only have a small circle of friends because of the stigma being disabled has caused.”

Dionna still suffers from mixed aphasia, apraxia, hemiparesis, homonymous hemianopia, and intense pain on the site where her operations were performed on her scalp.

But Dionna is intent on staying positive and not letting the unfortunate experience she had at 14 years old impact her whole life.

“I still suffer from mixed aphasia, apraxia, hemiparesis, and homonymous hemianopia, the vision in my eyes has gotten approximately two-percent better over the years,” she said.

“Overall, I am a very positive person, even today I don’t dwell on what could have been.

“I am proud to represent disabled persons, even though some days I do have times where I struggle.

“Immediately after the incident I was confused, imagine trying to explain to a 14 year old the complexities of a stroke.

Dionna has had to have eight revisions of her surgery. NEW YORK, US

“I am fully independent. I can do everything a fully-bodied individual can do, I just do it differently.”

Dionna has been able to complete an undergraduate degree and move onto a Master’s degree in Disability Studies by having an assistant that helps her with reading and writing for school, and now lives a fully independent life by doing things slightly differently than others and being aware of her condition.

Dionna has also met her fiance, Tyler, who has been working hard on producing a documentary about Dionna’s life and struggles with her ailments, which they hope will bring a voice to the many disabled people who feel voiceless.

“I have a family that encourages me to succeed, and I met my now fiancé, Tyler,” she said.

“I am excited for the documentary, Young Survivor, that Tyler is producing for me that will hopefully one day bring me a voice loud enough for people to listen when I expose the problems disabled people face in the world.

“The film is being submitted to film festivals later this year and tells my story.”