Born with paralysis on the right side of her body, Nia Belanger could neither speak nor walk. The selflessness of her adoptive parents and her strength of character allowed her not only to become a fulfilling teenager but also to overcome the bullying that she was the target of at school. By participating in the Miss Teen Canada personality contest, Nia now aspires to give hope to all young bullies in the country.
Nia comes to open the door of the family home in Mirabel. Radiant, she welcomes us and gives us a broad smile. Behind these seemingly simple gestures lie years of medical treatment and persistence. “If my story can help at least one person, it will be a victory for me,” said the 14-year-old.
A baby like no other
When Eric Belanger and Linda Moreau went to look for little Nia in an orphanage in Beijing in China, in 2006, they quickly noticed that something was wrong with the 8-month-old baby. “Her record said she was born healthy, but her right thumb was completely closed and her foot was stiff like that of a ballerina,” recalls her mother.
According to the opinion of a pediatrician consulted there, Nia’s condition could be explained by a nerve stuck in the shoulder or by cerebrovascular arrest (CVA), but more tests were necessary to have it a pure heart. “At the orphanage, we were asked if we wanted to change it for another child. For us, there was no question of abandoning it! ”
Back in Quebec, the couple brought Nia to Montreal’s Shriners Hospital. The diagnosis quickly fell: she had suffered a stroke during pregnancy, paralyzing the right side of her body. “The doctors prepared us for the idea that she was unlikely to ever speak or walk. At the time, we felt terribly helpless, “says his father, who earns his living as a site superintendent.
The Shriners Hospital team gave Nia a series of treatments including physiotherapy, orthopedics, occupational therapy, and speech therapy. She also had wrist and heel tendon surgeries to allow her limbs to grow normally. For her part, Linda decided to put aside her career in the provincial public service to devote herself to her daughter, who then required constant attention.
Slowly, but surely, little Nia thwarted the forecasts. At 2.5 years old, she said her first words. Six months later, she managed to stand up, then move around while hopping.
As soon as she was able to walk, Nia started to receive botox injections in the foot to allow her to have a normal gait. Botox acts as a muscle relaxant, the foot is then put in plaster to give it a 90-degree posture. After eight weeks, the plaster is replaced by an orthosis. The operation is to be repeated after six months.
The treatments also allowed Nia to use her right hand, although it remains less agile and weaker than the left. “In everything I do, I have to work by copy and paste. If I want to take an apple with my right hand, first my left hand has to make the gesture so that the other responds to it, “she explains, using an example.
At the age of 7, Nia was able to attend regular school. She quickly found herself confronted by the gaze of her classmates. “The others were judging me because I had trouble running or because I had a different way of catching the ball. At first, it was curiosity, then it became wickedness. We laughed behind my back. ”
In class, things weren’t much better. His stroke had the consequence of greatly restricting his ability to solve abstract problems such as mathematical equations. It only increased his isolation. “No one wanted to work with me. Even the teacher thought that I was not making enough progress, “says the one who learns subjects like mathematics or algebra by memorization rather than by comprehension.
Nia remained silent about her misfortune until the day when she won tickets to attend a Marie-Mai show and have the chance to meet her idol. She was then 8 years old. “When Marie-Mai sang Differently, I really recognized myself in the lyrics. After the show, I asked her if because of my difference, I could never reach my dreams. Marie-Mai took me in her arms and told me that even if I was going to have to take another path, I was going to realize them. ”
This meeting with the artist gave her the dose of courage that the girl needed to confide in her parents. The fact of Parler took an immense weight off her shoulders. Eric and Linda were able to alert the management, which has taken certain measures to resolve the problem.
Defend those who are speechless
At 11, Nia was approached by Shriners Hospital to talk about her experience in a school bullying awareness campaign. Very grateful for the energies that the hospital team has displayed for her, Nia accepted the invitation.
For three years, Nia offered her testimony in 50 primary schools to 9,000 students. “I talked to them about the importance of taking action. I told them that the bullies were not going to carry out their threats and that they were able to get through this ordeal. Yes, it’s scary, but you have to be brave and go see an adult you trust. ”
Nia’s testimony elicited many positive reactions from both children and teachers. Many young people would thank her or give her a hug. Others, with tears in their eyes, confided that they were the target of bullies. School administrators even said that several cases of intimidation had been reported following the passage of Nia. “It made me grow because I developed more self-confidence. Now I’m comfortable in front of an audience, “said the woman who dreams of radio later.
In search of new rewarding activities, Nia decided to participate in the Miss Teen Quebec competition last year. She was among the last five finalists. This competition, which focuses on personality rather than appearance, has allowed him to improve his self-esteem. “I loved the experience. I even met there those who are my best friends today. ”
This year, Nia was able to qualify for the Miss Teen Canada final which will take place on March 7 in Laval. For the duration of her “reign”, the winner of the competition may become the ambassador of a cause of her choice. There is no doubt that, in the event that she wins, she will continue her battle against bullying. “I dream of being able to create my foundation and continue to give lectures in schools to give hope to children who are afraid. I want to become a positive image for them. ”
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