Andrea Dalzell is no stranger to Scrubs Magazine. She has been on the frontlines of the COVID-19 crisis as a registered nurse in New York City, and is one of only a few wheelchair-using nurses in the country. She became a nurse in 2018, even learning to box in order to build up the strength to administer CPR. Dalzell was recently featured in the Raw Beauty Project, a New York arts project celebrating women with disabilities and educating viewers to redefine perceptions and beauty. She has been featured in Apple Watch commercials demonstrating some of the device’s accessibility features. Dalzell received her undergraduate degree in Neuroscience and Biology, as well as her nursing degree, at the CUNY College of Staten Island, where she was awarded CUNY’s Emerging Leader of the Year Award. She also won the Cindy Loo Disability Rights Advocate Award in 2015 and was crowned Ms. Wheelchair New York in 2015.
For every “no” that Andrea Dalzell has received in life, she’s always been able to turn around and say “watch me” and succeed.
“She never let anything stop her, even when she ended up in a wheelchair,” said her mom, Sharon Dalzell.
At just five years old, Andrea Dalzell was diagnosed with transverse myelitis, a neurological disorder affecting her ability to walk.
“I think I went completely numb. I blamed myself for years,” said Sharon Dalzell. “I thought I didn’t do something right. I thought there was something I could have done different that would have allowed her to walk.”
“It was very devastating,” added Andrea Dalzell’s father, Trevor Dalzell.
But although Andrea Dalzell’s parents were worried for her and the fact that she’d never walk again due to her disorder, she stayed strong for her family and above all, herself.
“She grew from five years old to 50 years old. She was like, Mom, don’t worry, I’ll be fine,” said Sharon Dalzell, who also recalled that her daughter was not afraid to speak her mind.
“She argued with the doctors at five years old,” she added. “The first thing she would ask the doctors when they come in the room, are you a first year, your second year or your third year? If anyone said first and second year, she’d be like please leave. I need a real doctor. In her mind, the first year or a second year didn’t correspond to being a doctor unless you were further ahead.”
Growing up, Andrea Dalzell made a vow that being in a wheelchair would never stand in the way of things that she wanted in life, especially when it came to her goal of becoming a nurse.
“She got so much push back on becoming a nurse that it was amazing that she didn’t drop out of the class,” said Sharon Dalzell. “She’s like, just watch me. Give me a chance to prove myself.”
And she did, becoming a registered nurse in 2018 and finishing her Bachelor’s degree the same year.
When the coronavirus pandemic hit, she was hired on the spot to work in one of the hardest hit areas in the United States — New York City.
“She’s super qualified, she’s caring, she understands what it is to be a patient,” said her mom. “A lot of people can become a nurse, but they don’t know what it is to be a patient.”
“We were always proud of her,” added Andrea’s dad. “[She] accomplished what she wanted to get done, but it was good, we’re proud of all of that.”
Other people in her family who are also proud of her are her siblings, who look up to her and are able to lean on her in tough times.
“My sister has been everything to me since I was small,” said her sister Angela Dalzell. “When I think of her, I just think of the ambitious person that she is, the go getter, that drive.”
“She’s always been there for me in my darkest times, my bad times and my happy times,” added Andrea’s brother, Anthony Dalzell. “She’s just extremely hard working.”
But her story also reaches thousands. On her Instagram, @theseatednurse, Andrea shares messages of hope for her followers and stories from her many experiences from being in a wheelchair. Her goal? To change the perception of others about those with a disability or who use wheelchairs.
“There comes a point when you have no choice but to face fear head on,” she wrote in one Instagram post. “Do the thing that scares you and keep going!”
Because of her efforts to help others, the Craig H. Neilsen Foundation, a nonprofit organization that supports people with spinal cord injuries, surprised Andrea with its first-ever Craig H. Neilsen Visionary Prize, an unrestricted award of $1 million.
The foundation, which describes itself as the nation’s “largest private funder of spinal cord injury research, rehabilitation, clinical training, and programmatic support,” told Andrea she was one of three winners of the $1 million prize because of “your influence and distinctiveness of your contributions to the spinal cord injury community.”
When Andrea was surprised with the $1 million prize, she immediately thought of how she would use it to help others.
“I want to start a whole program for people with disabilities to get into healthcare,” she said. “They should be given a chance.”
Andrea, the only registered nurse in New York City who uses a wheelchair, said she works every day to prove that, “people with disabilities aren’t living a death sentence. They’re living life.”
“I need to be able to change that narrative for others so they know that if they’re diagnosed with something, if they acquire a disability, it doesn’t stop there,” she said. “Life still happens and it’s up to them to decide if they want to live it.”
This story originally appeared on GMA.