She was devastated to learn after her accident in 2009 that she would be paralyzed from the chest down and also have limited use of her arms.
“In the beginning, learning that I had a spinal cord injury was both emotionally traumatic and physically exhausting,” said Dani, now 36.
After taking time to absorb her new reality, she made the decision to fight for her life. She left her parents’ Virginia home, moved to California, went to rehab and earned a master’s degree.
“It took me two or three years to come back to a place of harmony and acceptance,” she said.
Then she fell in love with a man.
She met Rudy Izzie in 2015 on a dating app, and after they first met, they were both smitten.
“For our first date, we went to a restaurant in Old Town Alexandria, then we visited the National Portrait Gallery,” she said. “It was an instant attraction.”
“His handicap wasn’t a dealbreaker – we didn’t even discuss it for the first two dates,” added Rudy Izzie, 38. “We really connected. And of course, I thought she was very beautiful.
The couple discovered they had a lot in common: they both grew up in Virginia and loved the outdoors, and Dani worked in digital marketing while Rudy was in digital sales.
“He loved me for who I am,” Dani said. “I have been rejected many times in the past. But he had no qualms about me having a disability.
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They married in 2018 and moved into a home in Culpeper County, Virginia.
Soon, the couple faces a dilemma. They had always wanted to start a family. Could she, as a quadriplegic, provide her children with the care they needed?
“I was a bit insecure and doubtful, thinking, ‘How am I going to take care of a baby if I can barely take care of myself?’ ” she said. “Daily life was already difficult.”
But thinking about it more deeply, she decided that while her husband helped her put on her pants and shoes in the morning, she was doing a lot to take care of herself — and her husband too.
“I’ve come to realize, ‘Well, I take care of myself – I’m healthy, I’m happy and I’m alive, and I’ve learned to do things in different ways,'” a- she said, “Even though I had a profound disability, I was actually quite competent.”
Rudy was just as excited as she was about having a baby, but they weren’t sure if it was a good idea medically.
Their fears were allayed by her doctor, who told her that a spinal cord injury would not prevent her from having children, she said.
When she became pregnant in 2019, she received the shocking news during her first ultrasound that she had twins.
“I said, ‘You must be [kidding] me,” recalls Izzie. “I had made a plan on how to take care of a baby. And now there were two?
“It was definitely a surprise, but it was also magical,” Rudy added. “I always wanted to have two children.”
The Izzies consulted with a team of doctors led by Robert Fuller, a maternal-fetal medicine specialist at UVA Health. They reassured Dani that she could have a healthy pregnancy with careful monitoring.
“I’ve cared for a variety of people with mobility issues over the years, and it’s pretty rare to have a quadriplegic mom with twins,” Fuller said. “In fact, there are only a handful in the world.”
Fuller said he told Dani that the determination that brought her to his office was a good indication that she would be fine.
Spinal cord injuries often cause blood pressure to fluctuate, Fuller said, noting that high blood pressure could have put Dani at risk for a heart attack or stroke, and that low blood pressure could have could have deprived the twins of oxygen.
It turned out that Dani had another stressful challenge.
“The pandemic has arrived and my lungs are only functioning at 30% of normal,” she said. “So I had to stay really isolated to avoid getting sick.”
When she went into labor six weeks earlier, “I could feel something similar to contractions,” she said. “Even with paralysis, I have sensations in my body.”
Then, on April 24, 2020 – at the height of the coronavirus pandemic – Izzie became one of the world’s few quadriplegic women to give birth to twins – Lavinia and Giorgiana Izzie.
Her daughters were delivered by emergency caesarean section and placed next to her face for a while before being taken to the NICU, she said.
“They weighed four pounds each, and it was really moving and joyful to see them,” Izzie said.
The girls are now healthy, talkative 2½-year-olds who love to climb on their mother’s floor and read storybooks, Rudy noted.
“They go to daycare while we work, and then we all enjoy some quality time together,” he said. “We cherish these days because we know it’s going fast.”
Their story is the subject of “Dani’s Twins,” a 39-minute documentary that will screen Nov. 3 at the Virginia Film Festival in Charlottesville. The Dani’s Twins website says it’s “one in a billion stories of disabled pregnancy and parenthood”.
“I hope the film will have an impact on how people view parents with disabilities,” said Dani, who blogs about her life as a disabled mother and was one of the documentary’s producers.
“The most disabling thing is not my medical diagnosis, but the stigma and social attitudes,” she said. “People rarely see people with disabilities portrayed in caring roles. I want them to see me and realize that disability is a normal part of life.
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Lavinia and Giorgiana love to snuggle on his lap, read stories and take wheelchair rides, she said. The family goes to the playground frequently, and dinner at home is always a noisy affair.
“The girls are pure bliss,” she said. “Yes, there are challenges. But I accept that there are things I need help with and I have learned to adapt.
She said that because she still has partial use of her arms, she learned to use her hands in a certain way.
“It’s really about how I set things up in my home and how I coordinate care,” she said. “Rudy dresses the girls, I choose the clothes and I’m the stylist. And I also put the girls to bed.
“We distribute the tasks in a way that suits us,” she said.
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Dani said she doesn’t like to discuss what happened the day of her accident because “then my injury becomes the center of attention. I try to get people to see my disability in a new way.
“I want to emphasize that [disabled people] don’t owe anyone answers about our disabilities unless we want to share them,” she said.
“The only reason I made this film was to encourage other disabled women and give them an example they rarely see,” she added. “I want them to feel empowered, whether it’s parenting or anything else they’d like to do.”
She said she sometimes worried about how her daughters would handle her disability as they got older. Since getting pregnant, she has heard comments from strangers saying she is selfish, can’t be able to take care of her daughters, and worse.
Izzie made a YouTube video responding to those comments, saying there’s a common sense of “the moral police of people with disabilities and the belief that they don’t have autonomy over their own bodies.”
Her beautiful babies are the antidote to that, she says.
“The painful reality is that there are stigmas about parents with disabilities,” she said. “But if [my girls] have a personality like mine, they’ll be able to withstand that.
“Everyone has their challenges, whether they have a disability or not,” added Dani. “I’m hopeful that my film will show that we all have universal experiences that bring us together.”
“We need to be more supportive and inclusive of each other,” she said.