Isanusi Garcia Rodriguez has been dancing since he was a little boy in Havana. His talent brought him to Miami City Ballet, where he has been one of the troupe’s most charismatic and powerful performers for much of the last decade.
But when Rodriguez woke up in Mount Sinai Medical Center in January, unable to move or speak after a ruptured brain aneurysm nearly killed him, his life and identity as a superbly accomplished dancer were gone, leaving him frustrated and uncomprehending that his body wouldn’t do what he wanted it to.
“It was like I was a little kid in Cuba, and I want to dance but I can’t,” says Rodriguez, his tall frame folded into a small couch at the Miami Beach apartment he shares with his girlfriend, MCB dancer Christie Sciturro. “I’d say, ‘Where’s my Mom?’ I didn’t know where I was.”
“The doctors didn’t think he was going to make it,” says Sciturro. “And they said it might be better if he didn’t,” implying that if Rodriguez did survive, he would be severely impaired.
Six months later, Rodriguez, 36, has defied his doctors’ expectations. He is walking, swimming, stretching, even doing some tentative dance steps. He can talk and understand much of what’s said to him, although words and meanings still slip away from him, suddenly and maddeningly, leaving him clutching and shaking his head in frustration.
As far as he has come from where he was seven months ago — mute and half paralyzed, struggling to make a sound or stand up — Rodriguez is a long way from where he wants to be.
“I love to dance,” Rodriguez says. “I have to dance. I have to. Even if it’s just one more time.”
However, he has used his insurance policy’s limit of 20 sessions of speech and physical therapy. The ballet kept Rodriguez on salary until his contract expired in May though he couldn’t dance. Now Sciturro, 26, is paying for twice-weekly speech therapy and his health insurance out of her salary. She has launched a crowd-funding campaign at gofundme.com that has so far raised about a tenth of the $10,000 the couple say is needed for Rodriguez’s treatment.
Dr. Roberto Heros, a University of Miami neurosurgeon at Jackson Memorial Hospital, says getting therapy early and continuously is crucial for someone in Rodriguez’s situation. An aneurysm is a bubble that forms in a weak spot in an artery, and a rupture can be fatal. The cause is unknown, although stress, high blood pressure, sudden and intense physical activity and genetics are thought to play roles.
“The brain has some capacity to recover, and most of that is in the first six months, but it is ongoing for as much as a year,” says Heros, who did not treat Rodriguez but is known nationally for his experience in treating aneurysms. “After a certain period of time, six, eight, 10 months, there may not be any more neurological recovery. … If part of the brain dies it’s gone, it doesn’t regenerate. But there are other areas of the brain that have the potential to take over, and they can be trained.”
Training, talent and determination have taken Rodriguez far. He grew up in Havana, where he trained at the school of the National Ballet of Cuba. He was performing with the troupe on a U.S. tour in the late 1990s when Robert Weiss, director of the Carolina Ballet, spotted him and brought him to dance for his troupe in Raleigh, N.C. Rodriguez soon connected with Carlos Miguel Guerra, a close friend from Cuba who joined Miami City Ballet in 2001 and helped persuade then-artistic director Edward Villella to bring Rodriguez on board in 2003.