Two sisters from New Lenox—one who lives with Cerebral Palsy—found rooming together in college has worked to cement an adult friendship and a deep respect for each other. The outcome would be depicted in a tear-jerking Christmas video, produced by the younger of the two. It's called, "For My Sister Lisa."
Lisa and Amy Kandziorski, of New Lenox, are not your typical college coeds. The older of the two, 22-year-old Lisa, was born with Cerebral Palsy and is bound to her wheelchair. Her younger sister, 18-year-old Amy, is her chief cheerleader and best friend.
Yet the two are pretty much like any other kids who want to leave home after high school and go away to college. Lisa, whose form of Cerebral Palsy presents itself as mild in terms of cognitive abilities and moderate in terms of physical implications, graduated from Lincoln-Way Central High School in 2009.
The oldest started her college career locally, but in August joined her little sister, an incoming freshman at Southern Illinois University at Carbondale. Lisa, a kindergarten teacher in the making, and Amy, who wants to be a social worker, initially planned to live in the same dormitory but in separate rooms.
As courageous as Lisa has been through three surgeries for her legs and ongoing physical therapy, she and her parents worried about the reality of the situation. How would she handle being alone all night? She'd be living five hours away and relying on two personal assistants.
In the hours between lights out and the wake-up alarm, Lisa is completely isolated except for the cell phone that works as her life-line. "I'm stranded," she said.
While the two unpacked in rooms separated by a mere two doors and a short hallway walk, Amy said she realized how complicated this independence would be for her sister. It hit her how "incredibly courageous" Lisa was. As the girls' parents were preparing to leave, they all got very teary eyed. The girls' mother, Kerry Kandziorski, recalled that Amy got "very emotional. …She really saw for the first time how life is for Lisa."
She turned to her big sister and said, '"Lisa I love you, and I want you to succeed. I want to be your roommate."'
At first blush, Lisa thought her mother had influenced Amy. That wasn't the case. Sure Amy grew up seeing her sister function with Cerebral Palsy, but Kerry and husband Al Kandziorski were careful to guard the youngest against the often difficult and tedious implications of Lisa's condition.
"My mom and dad did everything for Lisa," Amy said. Then suddenly, while the two would be separated by maybe 20 yards, it hit her. She realized the sheer courage it took for Lisa to leave her safe haven.
After the lights went out, Lisa would now be truly isolated at night.
In spite of the "scary" aspects that independence would foist on Lisa, she never once asked Amy to be her roommate. Amy deserves to live her own life, her sister added. Still she liked the idea that Amy would be close and attending the same school.
The two agreed on the spot that they would be roommates. Having gotten through the first semester, the sisterly bond is steeped in friendship and a genuine respect. They share their hopes and dreams, laughter and tears, but still they have their own friends.
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The secret that Lisa didn't know
What Lisa didn't know about was the video project her sister was preparing as a Christmas present. It's called, "For My Sister Lisa."
Last week Amy sent her parents a copy. Overcome with emotion, it made it near to impossible to keep the five-and-a-half-minute long video a secret from Lisa.
Soft music is the perfect backdrop for a scrapbook show of family photos—mostly featuring Lisa and Amy. In it Amy sits silently in front of the camera in the dorm, telling the story of her sister's courage and more by holding up note cards that detail how Lisa lives, struggles and overcomes Cerebral Palsy.
"I think every day about how she shows so much strength. I never once heard her complain about not able to walk….
"I wanted this to be inspiring. If you are disabled, forget about it; do whatever your dreams are. Shoot for your dreams," Amy said.
Their first semester away from home comes to a close Friday, and they're determined to maintain their independence. No, they're not getting a ride home. Tthey're boarding the Amtrak train to Chicago; their parents will meet them there.
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