67 days after crash, family welcomes Giuliana home

SOUTH BEND, Ind.-- 67 days. It’s been a difficult, long haul for 13-year-old Giuliana Mendez.

“It’s definitely been challenging obviously,” Mendez said. “I thought that this was just, it wasn’t that major and that I’d go to the hospital and everyone would come back out and I’d go home straight away, and I’d be fine. But then obviously it turned into way more than that.”

On February 5, 31-year-old Kassandra Zwierzynski along with 5 of her children including Giuliana, were in a serious car crash involving a drunk driver on Grant Street in South Bend. The crash, left the driver in the other vehicle dead, Zwierzynski’s SUV destroyed, her and her kids with minor injuries. Except for Giuliana, who was airlifted to Riley Children’s Hospital with a severe spinal injury and has spent the last several weeks at Shirley Ryan in Chicago.

“When we crashed it was super unexpected. I was just chillin’ on my phone in the car and then I woke up and people were screaming and just everything was hectic,” Mendez said. “I noticed my legs...I’m paralyzed. And it was hard for me to breathe and so in my head I’m thinking like...I thought it was a nightmare.”

Giuliana, who is about to enter her freshman year of high school at St. Joe, and has been a competitive dancer for most of her life, now facing an uphill battle of the possibility of never being able to walk again. But despite that news, she's put all of her strength to defy the odds.

“I’m using muscles in different ways that I’ve never used before. I’ve definitely gotten better at it, because I used to only use parallel bars and now, I can walk by myself with a walker,” Mendez said.

After 67 days of endless hard work, Giuliana was finally welcomed back home yesterday afternoon.

“I was just so happy just in the car leaving Shirley Ryan because I feel so proud of myself and I feel like I’m way stronger and better than I’ve ever been before.”

And she couldn’t have done it without the outpouring of love and support from the community here in Michiana.

“It feels like everyone has my back and even if I were to let myself go, people wouldn’t let me fall. They just push me to go further.”

Just because Giuliana is home doesn’t mean her journey ends. She’ll be attending school 3 days a week starting next week, and will attend therapy twice a week with the end goal to gain more muscle in her knees to be able to walk and dance in front of a crowd again.

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