Cerebral Palsy Doesn’t Stop Teen From Excelling in Sports

Rehabilitation successfully allowed teen to pursue athletics

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Joseph V. Madia, MD

If you ask most people if having a partial paralysis would hinder you from pursuing sports, the answer might be yes.  But they might think twice if they met 16-year-old Joe Cancilla of Walled Lake, MI.

Despite a routine pregnancy, Joe’s parents Shari and Dave Cancilla, had suspicions there were some medical issues with Joe when he tried to crawl. “He would not use his right arm and leaned on his left arm to scoot around,” says Shari, a clinical documentation specialist at a local hospital. 

Their concerns continued when Joe was also having problems moving his right leg when he tried to walk. Joe’s pediatrician suggested he be seen by specialists at DMC Children’s Hospital of Michigan for further evaluation.

"Originally produced by Children's Hospital of Michigan."

“We ended up seeing a pediatric neurologist who confirmed that Joe had suffered a stroke while I was still pregnant, causing cerebral palsy and a partial paralysis of his right side,” she says.

As difficult as that diagnosis was, the Cancilla family had a feeling the diagnosis was not going to stop Joe from excelling in everything he wanted to do.  At his daycare, his competitive streak became evident and he would manage to keep up with all the activities the other kids would engage in.

Knowing Joe would need continued therapy and follow-up care, Dave and Shari met with James Chinarian, MD, medical director, Inpatient Rehabilitation Unit at DMC Children’s Hospital of Michigan.  “We knew as soon as we met him that we found a perfect match. 

Dr. Chinarian was very compassionate and encouraged Joe to pursue his athletic interests,” says Shari.  “Joe even played in the same little league baseball team as Dr. Chinarian’s son and it was so nice to see how excited Dr. Chinarian was to see Joe play baseball.”

Despite limited ability on his right arm and leg, Joe excelled on the junior varsity baseball team at Walled Lake Western High School as a pitcher and first basemen. He is hoping to make the varsity team this year.  He has also played soccer, golf, basketball, street hockey and even received his varsity letter in football, playing center. And he did all this while maintaining a 3.8 grade point average. 

Shari says Joe is hoping to combine his love of sports and compassion for others who may have disabilities, by pursuing the field of athletic training or exercise physiology.  

Dr. Chinarian says that Joe often serves as an inspiration when he talks to other families facing a similar situation. “I have often used Joe as an example over the many years I have known him, when talking to other families and kids with cerebral palsy or similar disabilities, telling them about Joe and that their disability doesn't have to stop them from participating in sports or music or anything because of how much he has been able to accomplish,” he says. 

Shari says Joe has also served as a great role model for his younger brother Nick and countless others who have come across this wonderful young man. “When Joe was asked in elementary school, what kind of super power he would like to have. He said he would like to fly and go to three states.  A little surprised, I asked him wouldn’t he want a right arm and leg that worked normally?  He said no mom, then I wouldn’t be me.”

For further information on Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation services which are offered in Detroit, Clinton Township and Novi call (313) 745-KIDS or toll-free at (888) 362-2500.  You can also visit www.ChildrensDMC.org/pediatric-physical-medicine-and-rehabilitation.

Reviewed by: 
Review Date: 
March 12, 2013
Last Updated:
March 13, 2013