Nickname is "Izzy Warrior Princess"
At just one-year-old, Isabel Rita, nicknamed “Izzy Warrior Princess,” was diagnosed with a spinal tumor. At just two-years- old, she has completed 42 rounds of chemotherapy. Through it all, Izzy hasn’t let a tumor define her; instead, she has been brave and a motivator to anyone lucky enough to meet her. One week after her first birthday, Isabel’s parents, Sonia and Marco, received the dreaded news. Having initially noticed that Isabel had a stiff neck, the Rita’s world rapidly changed when tests revealed Isabel’s diagnosis. In less than a week, Isabel quickly went from a healthy child with a possible ear infection to having a 10-hour spinal cord surgery.
At 14-months-old, Isabel began receiving therapy at Children’s Specialized Hospital. In the beginning, Isabel was very resistant to her therapies, acting fussy and not wanting to tolerate her sessions. Now she is a completely different patient, wanting and willing to dedicate herself to growing stronger and learning to walk.
Completely aware of how important walking is, Isabel has a fire in her to challenge herself with each passing day. Recently watching a movie where one of the characters was skating, Sonia asked Isabel if she wanted to learn to skate and play hockey. Isabel simply said, “First, I need to learn how to walk and then I can skate.”
Of her therapies, it was evident Isabel’s first experience at aquatic therapy was the foundation for more successes. “Aquatic therapy gave her confidence,” explains Sonia. “Once she started doing things in water, it translated to land like cruising and walking.”
“She learned quickly how much she loved the pool and how it really assisted in her movement,” explains Lauren Castagna, Physical Therapist. A small child fighting a big battle, several times weekly Isabel receives physical therapy, occupational therapy, aquatic therapy, and at-home early intervention therapies. Prior to beginning therapy, Isabel had a difficult time sitting, standing, and reaching and grasping toys. “I have seen Isabel go from being a little one-year-old unable to sit up, to taking independent steps for almost seven feet,” says Lauren.
“Isabel now comes into therapy ready to go,” says Colleen McCarthy, Occupational Therapist. “She often has a request for what she would like to do during therapy and completes activities with a smile on her face. Isabel is reaching, grasping, sitting, crawling, standing, and walking with a walker.”
Bright and observant yet dainty and silly, this little fighter is a true performer! With some of her favorite musical artists being Bruno Mars, Modest Mouse, and Rachel Platten, she’ll sing along to any song and dance her heart out using her Costa Rican and Portuguese roots.
“Uptown Funk was our saving grace for awhile this summer when she was re-learning to stand,” explains Andrea Cappeto, Physical Therapist. “Isabel would do anything to see Bruno Mars dance in the video, often challenging her balance by dancing herself.”
With incredibly committed and loving parents, Isabel’s progress is certainly attributed to their dedication. “Fortunately, Isabel is a very lucky little girl to have two incredible parents that are so supportive, determined, and caring to work with her at home every day and push her to her limits to help her progress,” explains Colleen. “They carry over all the activities and recommendations we suggest,” says Andrea.
“Isabel is making great strides in her mobility and function partially due to all the work her parents put in behind the scenes, finding ways to motivate/entertain her and trick her into working throughout her daily routine.” Mirroring the dedication of her parents, Sonia believes that Isabel’s therapists are crucial to her success. As Isabel isn’t like most other toddlers, her therapists, doctors, and nurses are all her closest friends.
“We trust her therapists completely,” says Sonia. “Everyone is invested in Isabel’s well-being, they are as invested as much as anyone else. The therapists are family.”
And together, as family, everyone is fighting the good fight right next to Isabel. So much so that Isabel was featured in Children’s Specialized Hospital’s very own #FightFace music video in the Summer of 2015, showing everyone what she fights for every day. “I saw the fight she was in the middle of,” says Lauren of recommending Isabel for the video, “and I knew that she is a girl who was completely determined to not let anything get in her way.” Although Izzy’s tumor is noncancerous, it has still affected each part of her life. The tumor, located near the top of her spine, is stable and currently shows no signs of life. Isabel’s spinal canal is reshaping itself so that the spinal cord is finding a way around dead tumor cells to reroute signals throughout her body. Due to this and her intense therapy, Isabel’s recovery has been incredible. Her fight is not over, but one thing that is certain -- the resilience of a child can overcome any obstacle.