When 17-year-old Izabella Davis was just a toddler, she was playing outside when she suddenly collapsed, unable to feel anything from her hips down. "It was just completely random," Davis said. "I couldn't feel my legs."
It took a month for doctors to diagnose Davis with transverse myelitis, a rare neurological condition that causes inflammation of the spinal cord. Davis spent a couple of years paralyzed in a wheelchair but after multiple surgeries, physical therapy and time, Davis slowly regained the use of her legs. She can now walk with the help of orthotics.
Though the Shorecrest high school junior feels grateful, there have also been times when she's felt disconnected from kids her age.
"I think it was hard for me because I didn't have anyone to connect with," said Davis. "I didn't really have that person I could go to that had a similar experience to me."
That's why the teenager is launching an empowerment project for teens with physical disabilities. She received a grant from the retail giant Ann Taylor to help start the non-profit project called Express Yourself.
The workshops are free and all throughout Seattle. Workshops are in creative writing, public speaking, filmmaking and more. Davis says art lends itself for young people to express the feelings and experiences they haven't been able to do with many of their peers.
"I think art is special because it brings people together and allows them to kind of open up in ways that other programs don't do as well," said Davis.
For example, in the creative writing workshop, some teenagers wanted to talk about their scars through poetry or personal narratives.
"A lot of them just opened up about their past surgeries and things they've gone through," said Davis. "It was really empowering to see them connect."
The workshops have even helped Davis.
"I'm only partially paralyzed and wear orthotics, but I was pretty lonely with it," Davis said. "They have a lot of programs for parents and kids, but they don't really have anything for teens. It's been really awesome because I haven't really been around other teens with physical abilities."
Davis is getting a lot of other life lessons, too. She learned how to write a grant proposal, pitch her program to businesses and lead a non-profit. She hopes she can keep the program going next year and even when she goes to college.
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