It feels good to tell the stories of people who inspire us. At the top of that list of people is Christina Santhouse Paravecchia.
In 1996, when she was 8 years old, the Bucks County girl underwent a radical surgery to remove the diseased right half of her brain. We call it "radical" because the 14-hour procedure is so risky that it's rarely performed today. Rasmussen's encephalitis was quickly destroying her brain, causing her more than 100 violent seizures per day and degrading her motor skills and speech. As Christina barreled down a path to paralysis and death, her doctors determined the surgery was her only option.
The removal of the right half of her brain had implications for the left side of her body, including a paralyzed arm and a partially paralyzed leg. But "the girl with half a brain" had double the heart, grit and determination and, against all odds, she has flourished beyond all expectations.
As a child, she had to learn to bathe, dress, walk and eat with utensils a second time. As a high school student at Conwell-Egan Catholic, she learned to drive, became one of the top bowlers in the Catholic League and graduated with honors. After high school, she earned her bachelor's and master's degrees and became a speech and language pathologist.
Now in her 30s, she's married and raising two children in Lower Makefield.
Our recent Mother's Day report tells of her latest and greatest challenge: motherhood. For any couple, pregnancy can come with fears and struggles. We can only imagine how much Christina's unique medical history amplified them. As for parenting, the thought of changing a squirming toddler's diaper, strapping her into a car seat, and getting her dressed for the day with one hand seems like it'd be both frustrating and exhausting.
But Christina has tackled parenting the same way she's tackled every other challenge in her life — with planning, preparation, faith in God and determination. We'd be remiss here if we didn't point out the yeoman's work done by her husband, Vince, who Christina says is an amazing source of physical and emotional support, and the help the couple has received from her mother and stepfather, Lynne and Albert Catarro, as well as Vince's mom and their extended families.
Christina, the "medical miracle" turned force of nature, has brought us — and our readers — along on her remarkable journey for all these years. Reporter Jo Ciavaglia and former staff photographer William Johnson, who still answers the call whenever it involves Christina, have been chronicling her life for more than 20 years.
An archive of that coverage is available to readers at www.buckscountycouriertimes.com/news/special-reports.
We'd like to thank Christina, Vince and Lynne for granting us extraordinary access to their lives for so long. It has allowed us to tell an inspiring and important story of faith, hope, love and perseverance.
Christina Santhouse Paravecchia, who is known around our newsroom simply as "Christina," is a testament to what human beings can accomplish with even half a brain.