An ordinary morning turned tragic for Samantha “Sammy” Constantine, when she suffered a stroke and crashed her car into a tree. What followed for the Valparaiso High School student was a blur of hospitals, physical therapy, and pain. But two years later, Constantine has a new perspective in life.
“I learned to look for those things that ignite a fire in your soul, and that no matter what happens, don’t stop doing what you love.”
Before the accident, Constantine was a healthy, athletic teenager. She dedicated her life to soccer and academics, with dreams of becoming a nurse. Everything came to a screeching halt that fateful September morning.
“I was driving to school when I had the stroke,” Constantine said. “I don’t remember the accident, or the hospitals afterwards.”
Constantine was airlifted to a hospital and placed in a medically-induced coma. When she awoke, friends and family supported her from her bedside, but those months following the accident are like a blank page in her mind. Her first memory was the choppy blue waters of Lake Michigan, visible from her window in the Shirley Ryan AbilityLab. At the AbilityLab, Constantine worked on restoring strength in the left side of her body.
“It was a humbling experience,” Constantine said. “I just turned 17, and I never thought I’d have to learn how to walk, eat, and take care of myself again.”
Constantine relayed that while she is not happy she had a stroke, she views her experience in a positive light. She takes pride in the person she is now, and hopes to inspire those around her.
“It was tough, but it made me into a person that I am proud to be. It bettered me as a human. I’m more passionate and empathetic.”
This empathetic spirit inspired her to shave her head to raise funds for pediatric cancer. Her goal was $500, with all proceeds to benefit St. Baldrick's Foundation, a not-for-profit that raises funds to help find cures for cancer in children.
“I didn’t expect to raise my goal of $500,” Constantine said. “But I ended up raising over $1,000. It was awesome.”
On January 5, Constantine and a group of friends went to Valparaiso’s Cut Above, where she got the haircut of a lifetime. Constantine hopes her hairlessness inspires the community.
“It was like, wow, I did that! I’ve always had long hair, and they ended up cutting 14 inches. I was terrified because my hair is like a security blanket.”
Constantine feels confident with her new look, especially because of what it represents. While there are times she misses her hair, she said her baldness exemplifies the true meaning of beauty.
“I almost feel more beautiful now. Society is so tough on women these days for having short hair, but beauty is found in the soul.”
Constantine has made great strides in her recovery, but her journey is not over. She works hard with physical and speech therapy to regain all that the stroke stole, and credits her mother as her driving force.
“My mom is the most amazing woman I know. She is so strong and inspires me in every way possible,” Constantine said. “I aspire to be half the woman she is.”
Constantine graduates from Valparaiso High School in the spring, and hopes to attend Purdue to become a speech pathologist. Her connection with her own speech pathologist inspired her to pursue this line of work.
“I looked forward to spending time with my speech therapist, Yana. She makes the experience so much better,” Constantine said. “For a career, I want that connection. I can relate to people who are in need of speech since I’ve been in that spot before.”
When Constantine is not at school or working on regaining her abilities, she enjoys her job at Lincoln Flats. She also loves music, painting, peer tutoring, cross-country, and UNICEF Club. Although Constantine sometimes misses her life before the stroke, she loves her new reality.
“It’s been tough. I remember what it was like before I was disabled,” Constantine said. “I’ve learned to love and accept myself as I am.”