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Teen stroke survivor volunteers to help other patients

(WHAM photo)

Greece, N.Y. - Despite being left speechless from a debilitating disease, a Greece woman is proving she still has plenty of life to live.

Dionna Zupparo, 20, was only 14-years-old when she had a stroke.

This happened five and half years ago, when she was a high school freshman, as she was warming up for swimming sectionals.

"I fell down, and the feeling in the left and right body, numb,” Zupparo said “And the coach asked me, 'Are you OK?'"

But she couldn’t speak. A blood clot damaged the left side of her brain, impacting her speech and causing paralysis in her right arm and leg.

"It was devastating,” said Roxanne Zupparo, Dionna’s mother. “It is, in some ways, a parent’s worst nightmare, because you don't really know what the prognosis is."

Doctors had to remove a portion of Zuppora’s skull to relieve the pressure and swelling from the clot. She spent several weeks in the hospital and endured countless hours of intense physical, speech and language therapy.

"It really was hard,” her mother said. “We were constantly trying to point at things and get her to say things."

Zuppora’s vocabulary grows week by week. But, at first, it was down to two words.

“In therapy, the first word is 'no,'” she said. “The second word is, 'mom,' and together, 'No mom.'"

Now, she tells her story to other stroke patients at the Golisano Rehab at Unity.

"Encouragement for the patients," Zuppora adds.

Dr. Cecila Ransom, a physical medicine rehabilitation expert, said patients are inspired by Zuppora.

"They are like, 'this is helpful; this made me understand what the program's about, what they're going through,'" Dr. Ransom said. "Definitely, very inspirational."

In 2014, she found herself back in the water, swimming during senior night for the "Greece Storm."

Her message is simple: "Go big and go home,” Zupparo said. "Fight. Fight and win this fight."

Because she did, and does, every day.

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