Five years ago Kirra Wright was learning to walk again. Today she is aiming for gold.
The 11-year-old’s goal is to compete at the 2024 Paralympic Games in Paris.
And despite having had a stroke at age two, and three major brain surgeries, she’s full of the grit and determination needed to get there.
Kirra is a state and national cross-country runner and a budding long jump contestant, and is being mentored by Olympian Brooke Stratton.
She has a chest of medals to her name, and is already running ahead of her older peers. But it hasn’t always been so positive for the Grade 6 pupil.
“She had a stroke when she was two in 2010 and had a 20-minute seizure,” Kirra’s mum Kylie Portelli says.
“We rushed her by ambulance to the Royal Children’s Hospital.
“It turned out that it was a brain AVM (arteriovenous malformation). That’s when her vessels, capillaries, arteries — all the major things in her brain — are clustered together like spaghetti. And because there was so much pressure it burst,” she said.
The two-year-old was rushed in for a marathon 12½ hours of surgery.
Ms Portelli and Kira’s dad Byron Wright feared the worst. But the surgery was a success and their little fighter bounced right back.
In 2012, and then again in 2015, Kirra had to undergo further procedures to remove more of the AVM.
“The bad one was 2015 because neurosurgeons had to go in deeper — a surgeon even told us that she wouldn’t be able to walk, her speech would be affected,” Ms Portelli said.
But Kirra again defied the odds.
Since then she had also had to manage a diagnosis of epilepsy and lives with cerebral palsy, but it hasn’t stopped her from reaching for the stars. And it’s patients like Kirra that make Dr Olivia Lee’s job so fulfilling.
“The key is finding a team in the community to support the family,” Dr Lee said.
“Whether it’s children who love sport, who want to get competitive.
“We used to have many individual programs, as well as group programs and transition programs. And we have peer groups.
“But we also have sports groups to help children find their place in the community.
“Rehab is all these little components — whatever the goals are.”
Ms Portelli said Kirra was a reflection of the support she continues to receive — both in and out of hospital.
“What makes her special is not just her persistence, but she’s had the support networks who say ‘Never give up’,” Ms Portelli said.
“Rehab has been absolutely amazing for Kirra. I said to her, ‘The sky’s the limit and life’s what you make it’.
“She’s come a long way from that kid in the hospital.”
Originally published in the Herald Sun, April 10, 2020
Words: Alanah Frost
Images: Alex Coppel