But on Jan. 8, 2013, her life changed forever, when she was hit by a car. The aftermath of the accident has left her fighting for her life ever since. She recently made the tough decision to amputate her right leg and is now raising money to help pay medical bills and buy a prosthesis.
The day of the accident, Zellis was walking along a sidewalk in Brooklyn, just like any other day, when she was hit by a car that jumped the curb. The impact stripped the skin off her right leg, setting off a chain of medical problems.
After more than 20 surgeries, doctors decided in March to amputate her leg below the knee in order to stop the infections that nearly killed her on six occasions. But the infections persisted, requiring a second surgery in May to amputate the leg above the knee.
Zellis was discharged from the hospital in June and today is home, physically healthy and adjusting to life as an amputee.
“My faith is absolutely what I hold onto, and it’s what motivates me to keep going,” Zellis said.
Now undergoing physical therapy, her goal is to obtain a high-quality electronic knee for significantly improved mobility to lead a more productive life. The prosthesis alone will cost an estimated $100,000, and that’s on top of the medical bills she’s already accumulated. Insurance will only cover so much, and the family has been responsible for the bulk of all medical bills because one of the drivers in the accident was uninsured and the other was underinsured.
To help with these costs, a GoFundMe was launched, which raised more than $27,000 in its first 20 hours. As of July 17, it had raised more than $72,000.
“I’m really overwhelmed by the outpouring of love and people wanting to help,” Zellis said. “It feels very personal.”
The accident has taken a toll not only on Zellis, but on her family. Zellis’ mother, Sheryl, walked away from a career with a large national rehabilitation company to help care for her daughter. Her father, David, a criminal defense attorney, has cut back on his work as well.
“It was very hard to do at first, but I always felt that I did the right thing,” Sheryl Zellis said. “Watching your child not be able to grow and experience typical early 20s life, where we evolve into an adult, and learn a very different reality of the health care system and dealing with doctors and things that people never see in their whole life, is very upsetting and very discouraging and you feel powerless.”
Zellis dropped out of college after the accident, but completed an occupational therapy assistant program in 2016, finishing with a 4.0 GPA at Eastwick College.
Now her goal in life is to help other amputees to get their lives back.
“It’s not just about muscles and bones; it’s about the whole person. I really just fell in love with that, and I became very passionate about it,” she said of occupational therapy. “It’s really about helping people get their independence back.”
As Zellis adjusts to life as an amputee, she looks toward the future. One day, she’d like to go back to school to get a doctorate in occupational therapy, then teach, like her mother.
“Sometimes the story of life changes to something you didn’t expect, but you can start over and write a new story and continue that way,” Zellis said.
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