Mariana Maniscalco was a regular 14-year-old girl entering her freshman year at Kenmore East High School in September 2012.
The active and motivated teen had just finished middle school as a pole vaulter for the varsity track team. Along with track, writing also is one of Mariana’s favorite hobbies. The path ahead of Mariana appeared to be entirely uphill; however, after only one month into her first year of high school, everything began to change.
It all started with a fever in late September. Mariana’s temperature rose to 104 degrees, and after 10 days of being unable to break the fever, Mariana’s parents, Lynn Maniscalco and Mark Gaughan, a Buffalo News sports reporter, took her to the hospital. Doctors couldn’t diagnose her and were unsure of why the temperature wasn’t decreasing with the typical antibiotics used to treat viral infections. They ordered lots of blood work to be done while she was being monitored as a patient in Women & Children’s Hospital.
The same night that the doctors were finally able to diagnose Mariana’s condition, she experienced a stroke. Less than 48 hours later, she suffered another stroke.
Doctors concluded that Mariana didn’t have a viral infection; instead, she had contracted a fluke bacterial infection that had made its way into her bloodstream. This particular bacterial infection is very rare and most often benign in people’s bodies. After being treated in Buffalo for several months, Mariana was sent to Pittsburgh in January 2013 for therapy. Now that doctors knew how to treat the infection, it seemed that her long and strenuous battle was almost over; however, while in rehab, things took an unexpected turn for the worse. A valve in Mariana’s heart gave out, and she required immediate open-heart surgery.
It turned out that the bacterial infection had originally latched onto Mariana’s heart valve, causing it to spray the bacteria throughout her bloodstream. The bacteria then clumped in her head, causing the initial stroke. In a stroke of luck, doctors were able to repair Mariana’s heart valve without having to replace it. This allowed her to begin the road to recovery.
After a total of 150 days in the hospital, three brain surgeries, a massive stroke and one open-heart surgery, Mariana was finally able to return home in March 2013. The original stroke was restricted to only one half of the brain, which impacted Mariana’s motor skills on her right side; however, this was nothing that she couldn’t overcome.
When asked about her experience in the hospital, Mariana said, “Children’s Hospital of Buffalo was beyond helpful to me. I am forever grateful to them for saving my life.”
Today, Mariana is a junior at Kenmore East High School. She is full of life and more active than ever. This past summer, she worked as a camp counselor at the Park School Summer Day Camp of Buffalo. She spread her happiness and energy to all of the kindergartners that she worked with.
It is clear that Mariana has recovered amazingly well from this catastrophic event, although she still attends therapy once a week. It is her positive attitude and self-motivation that have pushed her through.
“I just want to get better,” she said.
In addition to her continued successful recovery, the Make-a-Wish Foundation awarded Mariana its 2,500th wish.
Although many things have changed in Mariana’s life, her passion for writing is something that has always stuck with her. This is what led her to write a novel to fulfill her wish.
The title of Mariana’s book is “When Your Head Can’t, Your Heart Will … But What If That’s Broken Too?” The book is based on her story. It is written in a lighthearted voice and is relatable to all teenagers. She hopes it will inspire any child or teen in the hospital as well as anybody who may be experiencing a rough time in life. And, for those who are healthy and well, Mariana hopes her book will remind everyone to be thankful for each day.
“To be grateful is an understatement,” she said. “Life is such a delicate thing. Life is so good, and we should all be thankful for every day.”
The novel is currently in the publication process and is expected to be sold in local bookstores by Christmas.
Mariana’s story is one of courage, strength and passion, and her book reflects all of these qualities.
Erin Nebbia is a senior at Nichols School.
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