DOWNEY - Zinthia Alvarado was en route to her grandfather's house to give him his Father's Day present when she was involved in a terrible car accident "I was sitting in the front seat without a seat belt when our car was hit by a bus being driven by a drunk driver," she says. " I remember waking up in a hospital and I couldn't move at all. I just remember my mom inside my room crying, then she came back in and told me I wouldn't be able to walk right now."Zinthia had suffered a major spinal cord injury and was diagnosed with paraplegia. She would never walk again. "It wasn't easy because people didn't accept me," she says. "It seemed to me that I was the only girl in a wheelchair in the entire world." Zinthia was born in Los Angeles, but when she was 7 years old, she moved to El Salvador with her mother. Nearly a decade later, Zinthia returned to the City of Angels. After having surgery for spinal issues, she was sent to Rancho for Rehabilitation. She was an inpatient for two months for treatment for scoliosis. Today, Zinthia is 24 years old and a Rancho outpatient. "Rancho has helped me with more than just physical rehabilitation," Zinthia says. "When I came to Rancho, I was dealing with the severe depression and anxiety I have felt since I was injured. One time I had even overdosed and almost died because my self-esteem was so low." Rancho has become her home away from home. "The doctors, therapists, psychologists and the many special programs I have participated in have helped me overcome my depression," Zinthia says. "Rancho gave me the tools I need to help me stay positive, and to deal with my feelings when I begin to be overwhelmed." Soon after coming to Rancho, Zinthia began participating in the Adolescent Support Group, where she could discuss her challenges with other kids who had similar issues in their lives. "My friends in the group are always there for me," she says. "It is great to have friends who understand what I'm going through and feeling." Zinthia also joined Rancho's KnowBarriers Patient Achievement Program. "I had a lot of goals. but I didn't know how to pursue them," she said. "Then I heard about KnowBarriers, where I learned to achieve my goals. Now I have weekly, monthly and annual goals, and I accomplish what I set out to do. This has really changed my life." Zinthia has also excelled in the Don Knabe Pediatric Arts Program, where she participated in the Fine Arts, Music and Photography modules. "I not only learned how to paint, make music and take interesting photographs-I learned how to express myself in ways I could have never imagined." Zinthia once wrote poems to get her feelings out, but that stopped working for her, so she turned to art. "My Fine Arts instructors helped me learn how to let my feelings out on a piece of paper or canvas by drawing or painting," Zinthia says. "When I wake up in the middle of the night and I I feel frustrated or sad, I just grab a canvas and start drawing and painting. I just let it out instead of hurting myself. That's what my art means to me." She did so well in the Pediatric Arts Program that she was soon asked to participate in the world-renowned Art of Rancho program for Rancho's adult artists. It was for this program that she created her seminal work, "Bella Unique." "Bella Unique is a mix of feelings.," she says. "It started in fashion school when I was studying art and design. My teacher didn't like it, because the model was in a wheelchair and she wanted an able-bodied model. So I decided to just keep this painting to myself." This rejection was very depressing for Zinthia, but with the lessons she learned at Rancho, she rallied. "I remembered a happy day when my grandma gave me a piece of red fabric, so I just painted it on top of the white dress my girl was wearing. I was still pretty frustrated, so I just painted the background black. I left it right there, not just because of my teacher, but also everything I was going through in my life. At that time last year, Zinthia was taking care of her terminally ill grandmother, helping her the best she could to maintain her dignity despite the havoc cancer was wreaking to her body. A few weeks later, Zinthia returned to "Bella Unique." "As I started feeling better, I began painting over the black background, using colors of emotion such as purple, yellow and red," she says. "Suddenly, 'Bella Unique' came to life. This painting has meant so much in my life, because it represents my hope for the future." Then it was time to submit her artwork for the 2010 Art of Rancho show. "I didn't have many pieces to submit, because I had spent almost all my time dealing with doctors and hospitals with my grandma," Zinthia says. "I just put "Bella Unique" in a frame, and I thought 'If they like it it's OK, if not, that's OK, too'." A few weeks later, Zinthia received a call from Rancho Director of Volunteer Services Debbie Tomlinson telling her "Bella Unique" had been selected to be on the cover of the Rancho Art Book. "I was in shock, I really couldn't believe it," Zinthia said. "I think that moment was a gift from God, because I was being so good to my grandma. When I told her, she was so happy, because she really liked that piece." Zinthia's amazing painting was also made into a poster and even "mini masterpieces", tiny canvases that are used to help spread the word about the great work being done by Rancho's patients. "It meant so much to me that it was on the cover, that they did the posters, that when I walked in the hall during the art show everyone said 'You're the one that did it'," Zinthia says. "They said 'you should be really proud of yourself'. It made me very happy that my painting meant as much to the people as it meant to me." "You have dreams, but you never think they will come true," Zintha says. "But then there were all these people waiting for me saying, 'Where's Zinthia?' and 'Can I have your autograph?' All these people that I didn't know were asking me, 'Can I take a picture with you?' and 'Can you sign this for me, please?'. It was really exciting. It made me feel stronger, and I knew that I could do anything if I put my mind to it." Zinthia is in for even more excitement on May 7, when her story will be featured as part of the 25th Annual Rancho Los Amigos Foundation Amistad Gala at the Westin Long Beach Hotel. In addition to seeing a special video about her, attendees will receive a poster and "mini-masterpiece" of Zinthia's beautiful "Bella Unique." Her accomplishments have had a major impact on Zinthia. "I'm more peaceful and happy," she says. "Now when people ask me if I'm sad because I am in a wheelchair, I say I would be sad if I didn't have my wheelchair. My wheelchair is everything. Wherever I go, it is part of me. I accept myself and I love myself for who I am and for who I can become." Now she is unafraid to dream. "Today, my dreams are earning my GED so that I can study art in college and to have a career in the fashion industry," Zinthia said. "Someday I would like to work with a doctor to create a fashionable medical corset that would replace the bulky ones we now have to wear under our clothing. This would be worn on the outside, and we could make styles so that it would match everything we wear. This way, those of us who are in wheelchairs could always look good." She is also very appreciative of her relationship with Rancho. "I thank Rancho for being a place of magic for me and many of my friends whose lives have also changed for the better there," Zinthia says. "Rancho is a special place where you don't only get rehab and see the doctors, you find friends and get the tools you need to succeed in life." Today she is pursuing her long-term goals. "I know that I will get my GED, I will travel the world with my art and fashion, and that I have a great life," Zinthia says. "Before I came to Rancho, I used to get anxious because I wanted to know what was going to happen to me. But now I know that I will be the one who shapes my future, and that living my life to the fullest each day will become my masterpiece." For more information, call the Rancho Los Amigos Foundation at (562) 401-7053 or visit www.rancho.org.
********** Published: April 28, 2011 - Volume 10 - Issue 2