Celebrating 20 years of ordinary people doing extraordinary things – the Courage to Come Back Awards highlights people in five categories who have overcome adversity or illness and who inspire and give to others.
In this first installment, we highlight the winner of the youth category: Alisa Gil Silvestre.
She will be the first person to tell you not to underestimate her.
Gil Silvestre was born with congenital muscular dystrophy, learning to drive a motorized wheelchair at just two years old.
Now, at 22 years old, she is inspiring others and won’t let anything stop her from reaching her dreams.
But it was her courage at the age of 14 to undergo a life-saving and life-changing surgery that makes her the winner of this year’s Courage to Come Back Award.
“It was the hardest time of our lives,” said her mother Teresa Gil Felts. “It was indescribable really. The emotions. I don’t even know how we got through it.”
When Gil Silvestre suffered a collapsed lung, it was life-threatening. She was facing a tracheostomy that would permanently hook her up to a machine to help her breathe and meant she would no longer ever be able to be alone. There was also a chance she would lose her voice and the ability to swallow.
“The doctor came to me and said ‘Alisa you’re going to die or you can have surgery and you can live’,” she said. “I had to think about it – my mom said it was a no-brainer.”
The surgery was a success – one of five she has now endured.
But it was by no means easy and now the machine is part of it.
She can’t breathe without it.
She needs a caregiver around the clock to clean the tubes. But once the decision to have the surgery was made – there was no stopping her.
“I would say don’t underestimate me,” she told Global News “If you tell me I can’t do something I will do it anyways and probably do it better than you thought.”
Gil Silvestre graduated high school in 2014 in spite of missing almost a full term being in the hospital getting the tracheostomy done. She made up all the work, her teachers were not surprised as they were used to Alisa’s determination.
She now spearheads the muscle madness team every year, raising money for Muscular Dystrophy, and inspiring others.
She plans to finish college and might get her masters degree. In her words, the options are endless.
“You can always get through it, with the right people and the right family, you can get through anything,” says Gil Silvestre.