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Justine Paradiso

Defying the Odds

Post-Acute Inpatient Rehabilitation

Admit: February 6, 2012
Discharge: March 23, 2012

Five years ago, a seizure and a mysterious illness landed 24-year-old Justine (Ehlers) Paradiso in the ICU. Further testing discovered abnormalities in her spinal fluid and grey matter on her brain. Her heart stopped twice and an emergency tracheotomy was performed. Justine's prognosis was bleak; if she survived, her family was told she could spend the rest of her life in a vegetative state. She arrived at On With Life in the Disorders of Consciousness program, unable to walk or talk.

"I have absolutely no memory of On With Life, but even without remembering my time there, I have looked back on the pictures and videos," said Justine. "I know without the rehab I had at On With Life, I would never have recovered as quickly or as wholly as I did." 

While Justine may not remember her time at On With Life, her family certainly does.

"She loved any therapy involving singing, swimming and especially Laughter Yoga," said Terri Sozio, Justine's mom. "Everyone was so kind and personable with her, getting her to take baby steps forward each day to help her recover." 

Now six years later, Justine is celebrating her first wedding anniversary, working as a marketing manager for the Dubuque Area Chamber of Commerce and buying her first home with her husband, AJ. 

"I picked up my life where I was before my illness, being with my family, hanging out with friends, going to White Sox games, working, reading, taking walks, going out on the river and writing poetry," said Justine. "I have made what I believe is a full recovery. I defied all the odds. No one thought I'd ever be 'Justine' again, but here I am, a walking, talking miracle."

Justine was admitted into On With Life's Disorders of Consciousness program, a unique program that addresses the medical, physical, environmental and cognitive needs of individuals with severe brain injury. For more information, visit