Daniella Altieri: Taking Action

The evening of June 27, 2022 was a big occasion for the students graduating from Monsignor Paul Dwyer Catholic High School in Oshawa, ON: it was their prom.

This festive night was beyond important for one of those students – Daniella Altieri. Once the party began, Daniella achieved a two-part goal she’d set for herself months before, after she’d had surgery on her feet that included transplanting donor bones – using her walker, she stood up and proceeded onto the dance floor and, like everyone else, rocked the night away.

“I even led the conga line at the end of the night. I was very tired and sore the next day,” she chuckles.

The second part of the goal came three days later, on June 30.

At the graduation ceremony, Daniella walked up the stairs to the stage and then across the stage to accept her diploma from Principal Michael O’Brien and Vice Principal Corrie Plummer.

Big moments? You bet they were – in fact, Daniella says they were among the proudest of her life. For 18 years, it had taken a ton of work for her to walk across the stage and get up on that dance floor.

Diagnosed with cerebral palsy when she was 18 months old, Daniella has lived a few lives. One has been spent with medical professionals as she has endured multiple surgeries, serial casting, Botox injections and countless hours of physical therapy.

But another life has been about Daniella taking action as an advocate for people with challenges. And that has included advocating for herself, with the unflagging support of her family.

She was an Easter Seals Ambassador for two years. She was named a Role Model by Mattel as it designed Wheelchair Barbie. She and a group of young women raised more than $100,000 for the Starlight Children’s Foundation to purchase trips for children with serious illnesses.

When her mother was at a meeting for students entering high school, she was told Daniella would not be working for credit at high school. The school felt Daniella was not academically strong enough for regular classes.

“My mom insisted that the school give me a chance and on the first day of high school she told me to spend the next four years showing them how ‘academically strong’ I am.”

She sure did. Daniella made the honor roll by Grade 10 and achieved a grade average in the high 80s in Grade 12.

Like so many people with challenges that all the world can see, Daniella has had to experience the stares when she’s out in public in her wheelchair. “I find that really hard to take. I want people to realize that I am just a person seeking acceptance in this world.”

And that’s why her family is vital to Daniella – mom Donna (an English teacher), dad Roger (a firefighter), brother Dylan (who’s 16) and their beloved golden retriever, Cooper.

“My family is my support. I love surprising them with my achievements. They never stop helping me reach my goals.” Like the time Roger carried her to the top of a mountain in Banff. Or how Donna “encourages me to tell my story.” Or how Cooper found a way to snuggle with her in bed when Daniella was recovering from the foot surgery in a skinny hospital bed at home.

Now, it’s time for a new chapter. While in high school, Daniella developed a passion for working with young children through a co-op program. Not only does she love this work, she’s good at it.

“Daniella created lessons and assisted students with their tasks. Her performance as an Educational Assistant co-op student was exceptional and her attendance, completion of logs and final assessments were completed with remarkable care,” says Karen Kelly, a teacher at Dwyer.

In the fall, Daniella begins a path to becoming a professional in working with students. She’ll be in the Early Childhood Education program at Durham College.

“My dream is to work at a school that specializes in children with special needs. Imagine the children who I can inspire to reach their goals, as I have been inspired to reach mine.”

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