Marina Ganetsky and James Casale with their book / Credit: Sasha Yampolsky

Marina Ganetsky walks and talks differently from other kids her age, but she wants people to know she is still smart. The 13-year-old Needham resident suffered a series of strokes that left her motionless on a school playground two-and-a-half years ago. Today, she is the author of “Or So They Thought! A True Story,” a self-published book about the struggles and triumphs of pediatric stroke victims. 

Marina’s mother, Sasha Yampolsky, said her beautiful, very social, smart daughter had an only 1% chance of survival when she was rushed to Boston Children’s Hospital. “It was every mother’s nightmare,” she said. Marina had lost all motor function and couldn’t swallow. 

After brain surgery and intense rehabilitation therapy she started to improve and is now doing better than her doctors expected. She has aphasia, a side effect of the strokes that stymies her language abilities, and she walks with a limp and slurs her words. But Marina is dedicated to showing everyone that her physical challenges don’t diminish her worth or intelligence. 

Marina, who has curly red hair and eyes that exude warmth, is currently a student at Pollard Middle School. She still has a few of the same friends she had before the stroke, but she writes about feeling alienated sometimes. She addresses those feelings, her long road to recovery and her determination to triumph in her new book, which she co-authored with her mom. She writes in poetic style about how differently people treat a child who does not look or sound like the other kids. 

“No more would they ask her to play, run or prance

Discomfort and pity now dwelt in their glance.”

Needham High School sophomore James Casale, a friend of Marina’s brother, illustrated the book. “I worked with Marina on all the drawings,” he said. Their collaborative relationship shows in the synergy between Marina’s feelings and his drawings. “It took over a year to complete the illustrations.”

Marina wants people to understand the struggles of pediatric stroke victims and how they triumph over them. She’s maintained her sense of humor and wears a T-shirt that says, “I had brain surgery. What’s YOUR excuse!” She’s been able to ski adaptively. She’s working hard in school and would very much like to join fellow students in standard subject classes instead of the special needs classes she currently attends. Her favorite subject is art, something she has in common with James.

 At the end of her story, Marina included stories of other children with similar experiences. These kids and their families are now part of Marina’s circle. Their parents have become a community for her mom and dad as well.

“Or So They Thought! A True Story” is available for purchase on Amazon or on loan at the Needham Public Library. 

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