At 14, I was told I'd need to live in a nursing home

A full time student was told she should be placed in a nursing home after a deadly stroke at the age of 14 – but defied the odds and taught herself to walk again.

Dionna Zupparo, now 26, from Rochester, New York, USA had a life-altering stroke in 2011 caused by a blood clot in the left side of her brain.

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

She suffered from loss of speech, went partially blind in both eyes and couldn’t move the entirety of her right side.

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

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

Even after her discharge, Dionna had speech, sight and physical problems.

This left her permanently in a wheelchair, and doctors saying he had slim-to-no chance of walking unassisted again.

However, through years of intense physical, occupational, and language therapy, Dionna was able to defy the odds and walk unassisted, drive, and even complete a higher educational degree.

‘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.

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

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

Before she had the stroke, she was an active teenager, playing sports, 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.

‘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.’

The ‘biggest thing’ she felt she missed out on was the social aspect of being a regular teen.

‘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,’ she said.

She still suffers from the effects of her stroke, but is intent on staying positive and not letting the unfortunate experience impact her whole life.

‘I am proud to represent disabled persons, even though some days I do have times where I struggle,’ she said.

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

Dionna completed an undergraduate degree and is doing a Master’s degree in Disability Studies by having an assistant that helps her with reading and writing for school.

Dionna has also met her fiancé, Tyler, who has been working hard on producing a documentary about Dionna’s life and struggles, which they hope will bring a voice to disabled people who feel like they don’t have one.

‘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.’

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