The help of the Gannon University community has been requested for an online contest that would allow a former Gannon University student to gain some much anticipated independence and earn her bachelor’s degree.
Liz Dunn, who attended Gannon as a junior pre-pharmacy major in 2010, said she had fallen asleep in the back of a friend’s car when the driver ran a stop sign on Oct. 23, 2010.
She was transported to UPMC Hamot, where she said she stayed for about a week, and was diagnosed as a C6 quadriplegic.
This means that she was paralyzed from the point of injury down the rest of her body. She said that she still has the use of some of her muscles, such as shoulders and biceps, but that she cannot move or feel her fingers and legs. She was 20 years old at the time of the accident.
Recently, Dunn was accepted to the University of Pittsburgh’s clinical dietetics and nutrition program, which she plans to attend in the fall. In this program, she will earn her bachelor’s degree in nutrition in two years and then go on to become a registered dietician.
After her week at UPMC Hamot, Dunn was taken across the street to HealthSouth Rehabilitation Center, where she spent about a month trying to learn how to cope with her new condition.
Dunn, however, was no stranger to the life of a person confined to a wheelchair.
She said her mother, Ramona Dunn, has used a wheelchair for three years now, and resides in a nursing home.
“It was hard at first,” Liz Dunn said. “I was used to seeing her every day and I am no longer able to.”
Then, after her own accident, Dunn said that the burden fell onto her father to take care of both of them. “It’s been pretty rough,” she said, “but we’re working through it. He keeps helping out as much as he can.”
Her father is currently the only member of their family with a vehicle, which is wheelchair-accessible, but does not have alternate controls.
Gannon was contacted by Dunn’s cousin, Alexandra Benevento, who asked the university to help Dunn win an online contest that would provide her with a wheelchair-equipped van with alternate controls, which would allow her to drive herself.
Benevento said that Dunn requires 24/7 care, and she needs assistance with the most basic of human tasks, including personal care.
For example, she currently has to be picked up and carried from her wheelchair to a vehicle when her dad isn’t the one driving.
Dunn said that if she wins the van, however, she wouldn’t need to rely on others as much. “I wouldn’t have to make people do everything for me,” she said.
That’s not to say, though, that her life will be much easier if she receives this vehicle.
She still relies on a caregiver and family members to take care of her, and she said she will have to find new ways to study.
Overall, though, Dunn said she is looking forward to this new step in her life, but she needs the help of the Gannon community to win the new vehicle.
To vote, go to www.nmeda.com/mobility-awareness-month/local-hero-contest. “Dunn” can be entered as the last name, or “PA” as the state. First-time voters are encouraged to enter the code 802, which will make their vote count as five votes. The voting is open until May 13.