Champigny suffered a stroke at age 11. She credits Adelphi for providing the personalized education that has enabled her to continue her recovery process, live on campus and complete her biology degree this spring.
by Ela Schwartz
A brain hemorrhage isn’t supposed to happen to a child. But it happened to Charlotte Champigny, now 23. Twice.
Champigny grew up in Harrison, New York, speaking French and English, but her passion was always math and science. Then, when she was 11 years old, she suffered a type of stroke caused by a congenital malformation of the brain found in less than 1 percent of the general population, according to the American Heart Association/American Stroke Association. The stroke occurred in the left hemisphere of her brain, which controls the right side of the body, leaving the right-handed Champigny paralyzed on this side.
She worked hard to regain use of her right side and recovered about 95 percent, she said. Then, at age 15, it happened again, and this time the effects were worse. “I woke up in the hospital and I couldn’t speak,” she recalled. In addition to causing paralysis on her right side, the stroke had impacted the part of the brain governing speech and language.
“I thought, ‘That’s it. I’m done,’” she said. Then she looked at her parents, her sister who had traveled from college in Montreal and her brother all the way from Paris, all to be by her side, “and I thought, ‘Okay, fine, I have to fight again.’ So I did it for them. They gave me my willpower.”
Her family’s support gave her the drive to push through many grueling hours of physical therapy to regain some use of her right side and speech therapy to overcome Broca’s aphasia, and to continue with her studies so she could graduate from high school. And she credits Adelphi for providing the personalized education that has enabled her to continue her recovery process, live on campus and complete the challenging courses that will earn her a Bachelor of Science in biology this spring.
Champigny chose Adelphi for its Bridges to Adelphi program. Although geared primarily to students with autism spectrum disorder or a nonverbal learning disability, the program also serves those with traumatic brain injury (TBI). She credits Bridges and its director, Mitch Nagler, with tutoring her through her general education requirements, which were a struggle due to her language disability.
The Hy Weinberg Center has been a valuable resource for speech therapy. She sometimes can think of a word but can’t say it, so she writes it on her leg with her finger, “and then I can say it,” she said. Her bilingualism can sometimes complicate the process, she explained, smiling. “Right now I want to say ‘year,’ but on my knee I noticed I wrote ‘a’ for ‘annee.’ It makes it hard for my speech therapist because sometimes I know it in French but can’t say it in English, and vice versa.”
Since the effort of reading gives her headaches, she is accommodated with audio versions of her textbooks, and she takes her tests in the Student Access Office, another department that has smoothed her way by accommodating her needs. As have her professors. “They understand me. I couldn’t do all the homework, so I asked if I can have an extra day or two and they said sure.”
Her favorite professors include those in biology, anthropology and sociology, and a special chemistry professor who made a big difference. When Champigny was in Ivan Fabe Dempsey Hyatt, PhD’s Organic Chemistry 2 class in Spring 2017, he came across a Research Experience for Undergraduates opportunity offered at the University of Delaware that prepares students with disabilities for science careers. “I told her to apply, helped her with the application and wrote the strongest letter I could for her,” he said. “Although she was hesitant at first—she was scared she wouldn’t be selected—when Charlotte was chosen for the program she came into my office beaming!” Champigny spent 10 weeks doing research and meeting other students who are overcoming similar hurdles.
“I am thankful to Adelphi University,” she said. “My professors were always very helpful and understanding. I am lucky to have the aid from Bridges, SAO, the Hy Weinberg Center and John Petrizzo, a professor of physical therapy who helped me with my physical recovery.”
Champigny is still weighing her postgraduation options, but slowing down is not one of them. Looking back on the day she woke up in the hospital and wondered if she’d have the strength to keep fighting, she said, “I’m glad I did. Sometimes I notice when everyone else can do something and I can’t because of my hand or my leg, and I get frustrated,” she said. “But you just deal with it. From the time I woke up to now, I’m positive, always positive.”
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