Private Project

Young Survivor

Young Survivor is a feature-length documentary that follows the story of Dionna Zupparo, a Rochester native who was an academic success, a musician, and a freshman athlete swimming on the varsity swim team. She was sure to go places, but no one expected those places to be full of hospitals and broken dreams. In 2011, while competing in high school swimming sectionals, Dionna lost consciousness getting out of the pool. She was rushed to the closest hospital, where she underwent life-saving surgery to save her life. Dionna died three times as a result of a stroke that would claim her voice, half her vision, and the function of the right side of her body.

The film tells Dionna's story of hope and resilience, capturing her journey to recovery over the past 11 years. In addition to hearing from Dionna herself, viewers also hear from her parents, Roxanne and Ignatious Zupparo, her former swim coach, Liz Zaffino, note-taker Victoria Foster, her boyfriend, Tyler Slattery, and Doctor Edward Taub of the University of Alabama. Through their stories, the film offers a comprehensive view of the physical, emotional, and psychological struggles that Dionna and her loved ones have faced since that fateful day in 2011.

The film documents the immense challenges Dionna faced as she fought to regain her speech, mobility, and independence. It shows her countless visits to both the University of Alabama and Marquette University, where she underwent intensive speech and occupational therapy to reclaim her life. Despite her struggles with aphasia and a limited ability to read and write, Dionna persevered and completed her Bachelor's degree in Public Health.

Through interviews with Dionna, her family, and her medical team, the film examines the impact that her disabilities have had on her life, relationships, and future aspirations. It also explores the concerns of her parents, who worry about discrimination in the workplace after college.

The documentary not only highlights Dionna's incredible strength and perseverance, but it also sheds light on the unique challenges that young survivors face as they navigate the aftermath of a catastrophic illness or injury. It shows that people with disabilities are people too, and they have hopes and dreams just like you or me. In fact, it could be argued that people with disabilities are some of the strongest people we know.

The film is a powerful, emotional journey that leaves viewers inspired and filled with hope. It is a testament to the human spirit's resilience in the face of unimaginable adversity and a reminder that life is fragile, but the human drive to succeed and to push on in the face of such difficulties is stronger than any amount of discrimination or self-doubt. Young Survivor is a must-see documentary that will touch the hearts of viewers and inspire them to overcome their own struggles.

  • Tyler Slattery
  • Dionna Zupparo
    Key Cast
  • Roxanne Zupparo
    Key Cast
  • Ignatius Zupparo
    Key Cast
  • Liz Zaffino
    Key Cast
  • Victoria Foster
    Key Cast
  • Project Type:
    Documentary, Feature
  • Genres:
    Participatory documentary, documentary
  • Runtime:
    52 minutes 16 seconds
  • Completion Date:
    May 1, 2023
  • Production Budget:
    10,000 USD
  • Country of Origin:
    United States
  • Country of Filming:
    United States
  • Language:
  • Shooting Format:
  • Aspect Ratio:
  • Film Color:
  • First-time Filmmaker:
  • Student Project: