Dani Izzie and her husband, Rudy, insist there’s nothing really extraordinary about how they’re raising their twin girls, Lavinia and Giorgiana, in rural Virginia. Double the fun always means double the chaos.
“I’ve had periods over the past two-and-a-half years where I’ve been very tired, just like any other new mom, you know?” Dani said.
Rudy laughed, “We’re just two normal people raising twins!”
But alongside their parenting challenges, are their personal challenges, Dani’s especially. She is quadriplegic, but her paralysis isn’t complete. Her hands are paralyzed, so her fingers don’t move individually, but she can move her wrists. “And my triceps specifically are paralyzed in my arms,” she adds, “but I can move my shoulders. And then my core, my abdominals, and my back muscles are paralyzed.”
Rudy said, “We adapt and do things probably different than other people do it. But Dani supports me, and I support her. It’s just … different.”
Dani said, “There can be people around who say it’s not normal. And this is proof, ‘Well, yeah, it is.'”
Dani grew up outside Washington, D.C., and went to college in Italy. In 2009, when she was 23, she slipped on a bathroom floor and injured her neck, paralyzing almost everything from her chest down.
She said the first two years of coping were the hardest, both physically and psychologically: “When you’re always thinking of how you’re gonna walk again, you’re living your life waiting.”
But there came a moment straight out of Hollywood when her life changed: one night, the film “Million Dollar Baby” was on TV in her acute rehab facility. In the movie, Hilary Swank plays a boxer who ends up with quadriplegia. So despondent over her situation, she asks her trainer (played by Clint Eastwood) to help take her own life.
Dani said, “Is this what my life is supposed to be? Like, be so devastated that I go die? Shouldn’t I try to get in a wheelchair? Shouldn’t I try to live? Shouldn’t I think about falling in love and getting married and having kids and pursuing a career?”
“I think the answer was really adapting to my life with a disability, and accepting that having a disability is not the end of the world.”
She met Rudy in 2016. “He was so easy to talk to. He didn’t have any qualms about my disability, so that was nice for once.”
Soon after their wedding, they sought out an OB-GYN, who confirmed what Dani already knew: her paralysis did not preclude her ability to have children. She got pregnant right away.
It was Rudy who first realized that they were getting more than they bargained for. “I was like, is there supposed to be two?” he said. “And then the technician said, ‘You didn’t know?'”
A friend suggested Dani and Rudy film their entire birth story for a documentary. The result was “Dani’s Twins,” a documentary that continues to be a fan favorite at film festivals. Part of the message says Dani, “Society doesn’t think we’re capable of being good parents. It’s prejudice, pure and simple.”
Although more than 300,000 people in this country (most of them men) are living with a traumatic spinal cord injury, there aren’t even numbers on how many moms are living with paralysis, let alone those who have twins. Dani said, “I’ve had many friends who are also quadriplegic women who are told that they should have their tubes tied.”
When Dani began posting about her pregnancy, most were supportive. But there were plenty of internet trolls, too. She said, “There are some pretty nasty comments saying that I’m selfish, that I shouldn’t be having children, how can I take care of children when I can’t take care of myself. And I’m like, I am taking care of myself!“
In April of 2020, six weeks early, Lavinia and Giorgiana arrived. Dani said, “To have my body do something right, it was, like, very empowering. Like, wow, I’m in a quote-unquote broken body, but it’s not broken. It is strong! It made me feel powerful as a woman.”
But it was also pretty humbling, with multiple feedings and diaper changes. Yet, she and Rudy are a well-oiled team; and she does it all while working a fulltime job. Dani just got her own company off the ground: Access Social, a digital marketing firm that connects businesses with the disability community.
What little time is left in her schedule she devotes to a private Facebook support group she started called Quad Squad. With 400 members, many of them moms, they understand each other in ways others, perhaps, can’t. Dani said, “We share pictures with each other. We get our questions answered, share our experiences.”
Lavinia and Giorgiana, now three, have proven the critics wrong; Dani is thriving, and so are they.
“I think it’s wonderful that people feel inspired, and I’m inspired by my friends with disabilities as well,” she said. “But I don’t want to go to the grocery store and have somebody come up to me and say randomly, ‘You’re so inspiring.’ Why? Because I’m at the grocery store? I want to be seen as normal. I want to be seen on the same level as everybody else. I don’t need to be inspiring.”
She’s a wife and a mom who may have lost what so many of us take for granted. But these days, she says, she’s never felt more whole.
“It feels like I got a gift,” Dani said. Two, in fact.
To watch a trailer for the documentary “Dani’s Twins” click on the video below:
Interview: CBS Sunday Morning