Stories of Impact

Dionna Zupparo's Story

In the fall of 2011, 14 year-old Dionna Zupparo was a healthy, active, high-achieving teenager.  She got high marks in school, excelled in athletics as a four-sport athlete and still found time to volunteer at Lakeside Memorial Hospital in Brockport, NY, the first step in her dream of pursuing a career in medicine.

“I swear, that girl never sat still!” remembers Roxanne, Dionna’s mother.  “The busier she was, the happier she was.  I never saw someone so at ease managing so many activities.”

All that came to an abrupt end one fateful day in November 2011.  While warming up in the pool for a race during sectionals, Dionna suddenly felt “funny.”  She got out of the pool thinking she might need to rest.  Without warning she found herself laying on the pool deck.

“I can remember it like it was yesterday,” says Dionna.  “I was awake and I could hear everything, but I couldn’t move.  I couldn’t talk.  My body just wouldn’t respond.”

Dionna was rushed to the hospital where doctors found that she had suffered an ischemic stroke which occurs as a result of an obstruction within a blood vessel supplying blood to the brain.  Doctors came to theorize that Dionna’s carotid artery had somehow torn a few days prior.  Her body had naturally responded by trying to form a clot to stop the bleeding.  Unfortunately, instead of healing, the clot broke free from the wound and went directly to Dionna’s brain, causing the stroke.

At the hospital, Dionna endured a second ischemic event and brain swelling that got so severe that she had an emergency craniotomy.  After surgery, doctors decided her best hope was to keep her sedated in a medically-induced coma for four agonizing days.

“I got the call at work and figured she was just dehydrated,” recalls Roxanne who is a nurse herself.  “But once I arrived at the hospital and saw everyone around her bed, I knew.  I knew we had just been thrust into an entirely new and uncertain path.”

Over the next four years, Dionna and her mother sought treatment at Unity Hospital’s rehabilitation facility at St. Mary’s Hospital as well as other locations throughout the country.  “I told Dionna, ‘Stroke isn’t going to win.  We are going to take your life back one day at a time.’”

Dionna’s progress is amazing.  Today, she drives her own modified car, is enrolled in classes at Roberts Wesleyan College and has even gotten back in the pool to ease into swimming.  “Of course it’s not nearly the same, but each new thing I can do again is a victory and I’ll take it!”  Dexterity in her right hand and arm as well as her speech and reading skills are not where she would like them to be, but she continues to work with therapists at Unity to improve. 

Dionna reflects on her many experiences at Unity and likens her time there as comfort from a loyal, trusting friend who unquestioningly offers support.  “I have traveled to several places to seek very specific treatment, but the people at Unity have been here for me from day one.  They got my engine restarted and are here for tune-ups as I need them while trying to get back to the business of life.”

In addition to her own therapy, Dionna also finds time to give back by volunteering at the Golisano Restorative Neurology & Rehabilitation Center at Unity Hospital.  There she finds patients who are facing many of the same physical and emotional hurdles that have challenged and continue to pester her.  “I am going to fight this fight and I am going to win.  Period.”  Says Dionna.  “I share that idea with patients and I think they understand that it’s not going to be easy, but there is hope.  You can do this.”

Because Care Matters
Dionna’s experience proves that a stroke can strike anyone, at any time.  When that happens, time is the key component for achieving the best possible outcomes.  The journey back from this sort of trauma can be long and arduous.  It necessitates the care and supervision of patient, competent, compassionate providers.  To learn more about how you can support the amazing things happening at Rochester Regional Health, please call 585.922.4800.


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