Bieber concert used as motivation for local girl recovering from traumatic accident

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PITTSBURGH - One could say that 10-year-old Bailie Zilli has a case of "Bieber fever."

While typical of other girls her age, the child's positive reaction to Justin Bieber's music shows her remarkable progress in recovery from a life-altering accident.

On Tuesday, Bailie will attend Bieber's sold-out concert in Pittsburgh with her mother, Nicole, courtesy of Excela Health.

After witnessing Bailie's positive reaction to a Bieber video, her therapists Diane Campbell, Joanna Ricchiuto, and Jennifer Gallucci of Excela Health Outpatient Pediatric Rehabilitation in Youngwood decided to try to get her tickets to the concert.

They reached out to Jennifer Miele, vice president of marketing and communications, for assistance. Miele told them that she would try to make it happen.

"Once I learned that his music motivated Bailie in her recovery progress, I knew I wanted to help her reach her goals," Miele said. "We aim to improve the health and well being of every life we touch, and this will not just improve Bailie's physical well-being, but also her mental and emotional well being."

Miele asked marketing coordinator Susan Stripay to assist in the search for tickets. Stripay tried many channels, but could not find tickets.

"I continued to monitor ticket sites looking for the right seating that would accommodate Bailie's wheelchair. Finally we found the tickets, and once they were delivered, we planned the surprise for Bailie and her family," Stripay explained

Miele and Stripay surprised Bailie and her parents at a therapy session with the tickets, a card, Justin Bieber pins, and a Justin Bieber purse. Stripay also coordinated with the Greensburg Salem Education Association to pay for transportation to and from the concert for mother and daughter.

Since learning about the tickets, Nicole Zilli said, the family has done the "Bieber countdown."

"I told her, 'Bailie, one month until Bieber. One week until Bieber.' This morning, I said, 'Bailie, Bieber's tomorrow,'" her mother said.

Bailie's family noticed that when she saw the 18-year-old singer on television she would light up.

"She can't physically tell us, 'I like whatever.' We take cues from what her friends and family are doing. We find that her 'likes' are very age-appropriate with her peers. He comes on, and she waves her arms and gets giddy, like any other 11-year-old who has a crush on him," Nicole Zilli said.

A particular favorite is Bieber's song, "Baby."

When her daughter went to a school dance, her mother said, the girl's friends changed the song's lyrics to "Bailie" and whirled her around in her wheelchair on the dance floor.

"We still do the same thing, and she goes crazy for it," Nicole Zilli said.

In 2003, Bailie, then age 2, fell into a pool in South Greensburg, resulting in a traumatic brain injury. Now wheelchair-bound and non-verbal, she relies on heavy assistance to execute most of her skills.

Since January 2009, she's benefited from the skills of Excela Health occupational therapist Ricchiuto, physical therapist Campbell and speech therapist Gallucci.

In therapy, Bailie works on head and neck control, range of motion, sitting up, self-feeding, swallowing, reaching and grabbing, and communicating with her communication devices.

"When she's really into something you can get a lot out of her," Campbell explained "She's inside there and understands her environment. She responds to choices, she can smile, and you can tell when she's happy."

This emotional response was discovered when a student from the University of Pittsburgh interning with the pediatric rehab team pulled up a Bieber video online during her therapy session one day.

"We weren't getting much out of Bailie that day, and the student who was with us decided to pull up the video because she knew Bailie liked Justin Bieber," Campbell recalled. "Once we saw how happy she was, we decided to try and get tickets for his concert.

"The presentation was wonderful. It was a surprise for the family since they didn't know if or when Bailie would get the tickets. It brought tears to our eyes when Jen and Susan showed up," Campbell added. "I would love to see Bailie when Bieber comes on stage. I don't know if she'll be able to contain herself in her chair."

Channel 11’s news exchange partners at TribLIVE contributed to this report.