Clearwater Marine Aquarium has over 400 volunteers, logging more than 7,000 hours a month and helping in countless ways. Many are inspired by CMA’s mission, love marine science and have a connection with our rescued animals. Volunteers come from all different backgrounds and age groups. Each one has a story and path that led them to volunteer at CMA.
One of the more remarkable stories comes from Lindsey DiCicco, who volunteers in the Water Quality Department, a crucial part of keeping all the aquarium animals alive and healthy. But it was Lindsey’s own health that was in danger just a few months before she began volunteering at CMA.
“A Migraine That Changed My Life Forever”
I’m Lindsey DiCicco and a few months ago I had a migraine that changed my life forever. It was a late night and I had never had a migraine in my life but had one for two days in a row. I had non-stop vomiting and nothing would make it go away. So I decided to make my boyfriend take me to the hospital (and I never go the hospital). We got to the emergency room and after checking in, and a few tests later, the nurses rushed me on a stretcher saying I couldn’t walk after what they saw on the X-Rays.
I had an arteriovenous malformation (AVM) that hemorrhaged in my brain and also caused an aneurysm. I had no idea what any of that meant and was scared for my life.
It was so confusing and nobody was telling me what was going on. Finally my mother got to the hospital and I was put in a hospital room. The doctor and nurses finally told us what they found on the X-Rays, I had an arteriovenous malformation (AVM) that hemorrhaged in my brain and also caused an aneurysm. I had no idea what any of that meant and was scared for my life.
My mom stayed strong but my boyfriend kept getting emotional. Finally they said I had to have surgery and I just wanted to get everything over with. My family wouldn’t tell me the risks and how many people don’t survive this kind of stuff when it comes to your brain. Everyone just wished for a safe surgery for me and to make it out of that surgery room the same person. Well I’m alive but I’ll never be the same person.
Hospitalized and Helpless
I was in the hospital over ten days. Being helpless and relying on nurses for your every move at twenty four years old is the worst feeling on this earth. I’m so grateful for all of those nurses and doctors, though. Without them I wouldn’t have gotten through this. After surgery I was on every drug possible but nothing was taking away the brutal head aches. I was so out of it and when I think back to the hospital most of it becomes a blur. I made my mother and boyfriend sit in the hospital room in complete darkness and silence because I couldn’t handle any light or noise.
Finally I started eating and getting the right medicine to help me get better slowly. I was walking down the halls with my physical therapist and they kept saying I was almost okay to leave but I didn’t feel okay at all. My vision was blurred for days and days. I would cry and wonder why this happened to me. After almost two weeks in the hospital I was released. This was a blessing but I was also terrified to be in the real world again. I finally got home and tried to rest and recover as much as possible.
Life After Brain Surgery
It’s been about five weeks out of the hospital and I finished a brain aneurysm 5k walk. If you asked me a month ago I never would have thought that’d be possible. I’m going out little by little each day, I still cry all the time but I’m trying to fight it. I have to find things to do that I’m allowed to according to the doctor. I still get sick if I listen to music for long periods of time or watch TV for more than a hour at a time. Light sensitivity is crazy but my vision is slowly getting back to almost normal. I have to work harder than I’ve ever had to in my life to do any little small task but I still get through everyday.
I’ve never had any health issues in my life and took a lot of things for granted. This surgery and life changing experience taught me to not sweat the little stuff and if you get a second chance at life don’t waste it. Now eight months later I work full time again and volunteer at Clearwater Marine Aquarium living the dream. If something is wrong with your body, no matter how little it hurts or how much money it costs, get it checked because you never know what can happen.
Learn more about Lindsey’s volunteering experience in the interview below.
Volunteer: Lindsey DiCicco
Department: Water Quality
Can you share a little about yourself and where you’re from?
I’m turning 25 years old in May. I’m from Crystal Beach, Florida. I’ve lived in Florida my whole life, I love it here. Some of my hobbies are photography, hanging with friends and going to the beach.
How long have you been volunteering?
How did you learn about CMA and decide to become a volunteer?
This past August I moved to Orlando to pursue my dreams of working with marine life at SeaWorld. One week after I moved out there I had unexpected brain surgery for a hemorrhaged AVM/Aneurysm. After I was out of the hospital I decided it was best to move back to my familiar area. Once I was fairly recovered I saw CMA had orientation for volunteers. So I went to orientation in October and ever since I’ve loved every minute of this volunteering experience.
Had you seen Dolphin Tale before you started volunteering?
Yes, I’ve seen Dolphin Tale and I own the DVD. I loved it because it shows all the scenes of places I grew up by and we got to learn Winter’s story.
Do you feel a special connection with Winter, Hope or any of the animals at CMA?
I definitely felt a connection with Hope the dolphin. Most mornings when we get water samples she comes to see us at the underwater windows. It’s the most amazing experience ever. I feel like all my worries go away.
How has your volunteer experience been?
My volunteer experience has been amazing. Getting to work with animals once a week is a dream. Learning about the residents of CMA and more of the background of the aquarium is great. I met some awesome friends from water quality, they make it so fun every week. My favorite part is teaching others about rescue, and petting stingrays.
Has any of it been challenging because of your medical condition or helpful dealing with it?
This experience has definitely helped me deal with my condition because it lets me escape reality and relieves my stress.
Anything else that you want to share about your story?
If my story can even help one person or give awareness that would be truly rewarding. I would like to thank CMA for letting me volunteer here. I also just joined the rescue team department. I’m so excited to be a part of that and helping all of the animals.