Before Dani Izzie became one of the few quadriplegic women known to give birth to twins, the odds were stacked against her.
She was devastated to learn after her accident in 2009 that she would be paralyzed from the chest down, and would also have limited use of her arms.
“Initially, learning that I had a spinal cord injury was both emotionally traumatic and physically grueling,” said Dani, now 36.
After taking time to absorb her new reality, she made a decision to fight for her life back. She moved out of her parents’ Virginia home, settled in California, did rehab and got a master’s degree.
“It took me two or three years to get back to a place of harmony and acceptance,” she said.
Then she fell in love with a man.
She met Rudy Izzie in 2015 on a dating app, and after their first meetup, they were both smitten.
“For our first date, we went to a restaurant in Old Town Alexandria, then visited the National Portrait Gallery,” she said. “It was an instant attraction.”
“Her disability was not a dealbreaker — we didn’t even talk about it for the first couple of dates,” added Rudy Izzie, 38. “We really connected. And of course, I thought she was very beautiful.”
The pair found they had a lot in common: they both grew up in Virginia and loved the outdoors, and Dani worked in digital marketing while Rudy was in digital sales.
“He loved me for who I am,” Dani said. “I’d been rejected a lot in the past. But he had no qualms about me having a disability.”
They married in 2018 and moved into a home in Culpeper County, Va.
Soon, the couple was facing a predicament. They had always wanted a family. Could she as a quadriplegic provide her children with the care they needed?
“I had some insecurity and doubt, wondering, ‘How am I going to take care of a baby if I can barely take care of myself?’ ” she said. “Everyday life was already challenging.”
But as she thought deeper about it, she decided that while her husband helps her put on her pants and shoes in the morning, she does a lot to take care of herself — and her husband, as well.
“I came to realize, ‘Well, I do take care of myself — I’m healthy, I’m happy and I’m alive, and I’ve learned to do things in different ways,’ ” she said. “Even though I had a profound disability, I was actually pretty competent.”
Rudy was just as excited as she was to have a baby, but they didn’t know if it was a good idea medically.
Their fears were put to rest by her doctor, who told her that a spinal cord injury would not prevent her from having children, she said.
When she became pregnant in 2019, she received the shocking news at her first ultrasound that she was having twins.
“I said, ‘You have to be [kidding] me,’ ” Izzie recalled. “I had developed a plan on how to take care of one baby. And now there were two?”
“It was definitely a surprise, but it was also magical,” Rudy added. “I’d always wanted to have two kids.”
The Izzies consulted with a team of doctors led by Robert Fuller, a maternal-fetal medicine specialist at UVA Health. They reassured Dani that she could have a healthy pregnancy with careful monitoring.
“I’ve taken care of a variety of people with mobility issues over the years, and it’s quite rare to have a quadriplegic mom with twins,” Fuller said. “In fact, there are only a handful in the world.”
Fuller said he told Dani the determination that brought her to his office was a good indication she was going to be fine.
Spinal cord injuries often cause a fluctuation in blood pressure, Fuller said, noting that high blood pressure could have put Dani at risk for a heart attack or stroke, and low blood pressure could have deprived the twins of oxygen.
As it turned out, Dani had another stressful challenge.
“The pandemic came along and my lungs only work at 30 percent of normal,” she said. “So I had to stay really isolated to avoid getting sick.”
When she went into labor six weeks early, “I could feel something similar to contractions,” she said. “Even with paralysis, I do have some sensation in my body.”
Then, on April 24, 2020 — at the height of the coronavirus pandemic — Izzie became one of the rare quadriplegic women in the world to give birth to twins — Lavinia and Giorgiana Izzie.
Her daughters were delivered via an emergency Caesarean section and placed next to her face for a moment before they were whisked away to the neonatal intensive care unit, she said.
“They weighed four pounds each, and it was really emotional and joyful to see them,” Izzie said.
The girls are now healthy and talkative 2½-year-olds who love to climb all over their mom on the floor and read storybooks, Rudy noted.
“They go to day care while we work, then we all enjoy quality time together,” he said. “We’re cherishing these days because we know it goes fast.”
Their story is the subject of “Dani’s Twins,” a 39-minute documentary that will be shown Nov. 3 at the Virginia Film Festival in Charlottesville. The “Dani’s Twins” website says it’s “a one-in-a-billion story of disabled pregnancy and parenting.”
“I’m hoping that the film will have an impact on how people view parents with disabilities,” said Dani, who writes a blog about her life as a disabled mom and was one of the documentary’s producers.
“The most disabling thing is not my medical diagnosis, but stigma and social attitudes,” she said. “People rarely see disabled people represented in caregiving roles. I want them to see me and realize that disability is just a normal part of life.”
Lavinia and Giorgiana enjoy snuggling in her lap, reading stories and going for wheelchair rides, she said. The family makes frequent trips to the playground, and dinner at home is always a noisy affair.
“The girls are pure joy,” she said. “Yes, there are challenges. But I accept there are things that I need help with and I’ve learned to adjust.”
She said that because she still has partial use of her arms, she has learned to use her hands in some ways.
“It’s really about how I set up things in my home and how I coordinate care,” she said. “Rudy dresses the girls, and I pick out the clothes and I’m the stylist. And I also put the girls to bed.”
“We split up tasks in ways that work for us,” she said.
Dani said she doesn’t like to discuss what happened the day of her accident because “then my injury becomes the focus. I’m trying to get people to see my disability in a new way.”
“I want to make a point that [disabled people] don’t owe answers about our disabilities to anyone, unless we feel like sharing that,” she said.
“The whole reason I did this film was to encourage other women with disabilities and give them an example they rarely get to see,” she added. “I want them to feel empowered, whether it involves becoming a parent or anything else they’d like to do.”
She said she sometimes worries about how her girls will deal with her disability as they grow older. Since she got pregnant, she’s heard comments from strangers saying she’s selfish, she can’t possibly be able to take care of her daughters, and worse.
Izzie made a YouTube video addressing these comments, saying there’s a common sentiment of “the moral policing of disabled people and the belief that they do not have autonomy over their own bodies.”
Her beautiful babies are the antidote to that, she said.
“The painful reality is that there are stigmas out there about disabled parents,” she said. “But if [my girls] have a personality like mine, they’ll be able to stand up to that.”
“Everybody has their challenges, whether they have a disability or not,” Dani added. “I have high hopes that my film will show we all have universal experiences that bring us together.”
“We need to be more supportive and inclusive of each other,” she said.