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The teen dancer, Gianna Schupler, of Dix Hills, New York, began dancing in first grade but, at the age of 11, started passing out during her vigorous tap routines.
“I’m holding her and she was non-responsive, and it was the scariest thing to go and see through,” her mother, Maria Schupler, told ABC News.
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After five incidents in three years, Schupler and Gianna’s father, Phil Schupler, knew it was more than just exhaustion and dehydration causing their daughter to collapse.
Doctors discovered a very rare heart defect in Gianna, described as a malfunction in her left coronary artery. In March 2014, the teenager underwent complex open heart surgery at Cohen Children’s Medical Center in Long Island, New York.
“The condition that she has is the second-commonest cause of sudden death among young people when they exercise,” said Dr. David Meyer, a pediatric cardiothoracic surgeon at Cohen Children’s. “She actually had a small heart attack.”
According to Gianna’s mom, her first words after the surgery were, “Can I dance?.” Within four months of the surgery, Gianna was back on the dance floor.
Not long after her return to dance, Gianna won the Starbound National Talent Competition in tap, according to hospital officials.
On Tuesday, Gianna came to the Dance With Me studio in Glen Head, New York, one of a chain of studios co-owned by Chmerkovskiy, thinking she was going to perform a two-minute tap routine at a news conference to celebrate her miraculous recovery.
“To see such a courageous young lady go through this struggle and defeat it with the strength of dance, it’s awesome,” Chmerkovskiy said of Gianna.
Gianna was left nearly speechless by the surprise.
“I can’t explain it,” she said. “Like, everything that I’ve been through makes everything worth it.”
Chmerkovskiy had another surprise for Gianna, telling her he is going to try to have her appear on the next season of “DWTS.”
“We’ll have a special performance for you and I,” he said. “And then maybe I’ll get the other dancers, too.”