Giovanna Dubuc: Motivating Others Through Music, Determination

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Giovanna has been playing violin since she was seven years old.

All photographs courtesy of Jenny Clemente.

Spend five minutes with Giovanna Dubuc and you'll learn that her list of accomplishments is longer than many who are twice her age. Dancer, violinist, rock climber, and motivational speaker are just some of the items on that list.

Fifteen-year-old Giovanna knows she's an inspiration to others—and it's a badge she wears proudly. But she'll tell you that she wants to earn that badge based on who she is, and not because she lives with limb difference.

"I don't want people to think I am an inspiration just for carrying my books down the hall," she says.

Giovanna had amniotic band syndrome and was born without the lower part of her right arm. Her mom, Jenny Clemente, says because Giovanna has never known any different, she's never let it slow her down.

"When she was born, it was of course a shock," Clemente says. "But then we very quickly became determined to raise her as an independent person…."

Clemente credits Giovanna's father, Manuel Dubuc, with helping the family learn the art of responding when others stared or were unkind. At times when  her own motherly instincts may have been to react with anger, she says, he would instead offer information and facts.

"If kids stared at Giovanna, my husband would explain that although she was born without part of her arm, she could still play and do all the same things as other people," Clemente says. "She built up her confidence and was able to stand up for herself at a very young age."

Her parents never limited Giovanna in terms of what activities she could engage in, and she's tried just about every sport.

"My parents encouraged me to try everything, so I wasn't limited," she says.

Clemente said it became apparent early on that her daughter gravitated toward music and the arts. Today, her biggest passions are playing the violin and rock climbing—and she excels at both.

Giovanna trains for climbing two times a week with Adaptive Climbing Group.

A Christmas Wish

Giovanna has been interested in violin from a young age. At Christmas 2011, when she was seven years old, she wrote a letter to Santa asking for a violin. He replied, telling her that if she could come up with a way to play the violin, he would bring her one.

It was then that the family met Glen Alexander, who worked at the music store where they went looking for a violin.

"Glen had a daughter her age, and he was so inspired by Giovanna's determination to play that he volunteered to teach her," Clemente says.

Giovanna initially tried to play with the prosthesis she'd gotten through Shriners Hospitals for Children, but it soon became evident that she needed something more specialized that would enable the fine motor skills required to play the instrument. Alexander suggested the family contact Hanger Clinic, and he spoke to the specialists there to explain what she would need to be able to play the violin.

Mark Elgart, CPO, lead prosthetist at Hanger Clinic in Charlotte, North Carolina, got to work custom designing and fabricating a prosthetic arm that would allow Giovanna to realize her dream of playing the violin. The solution included an Össur locking liner, Coyote grommet lock, friction wrist, and TRS violin attachment.

"Over the years as Giovanna has grown, I have made her several new prosthetic arms to help her continue playing," Elgart says. "In May 2019, I fit her with a 3D-printed myoelectric prosthesis called the Hero Arm, which was the first prosthetic arm with functioning fingers for everyday activities that Giovanna has ever used."

Giovanna went through a couple of castings to make sure the socket for the prosthesis fit comfortably without falling off. Each year, Hanger Clinic makes adjustments to accommodate Giovanna's needs as she grows.

Customizations have helped Giovanna to better hold and control the bow.

"With a violin, you need an extension and compression," Giovanna says. "So in my compression, I can't get a full bow, but the extension part is perfect so we're working to find the right balance."

Giovanna seemed to have found that balance when she stunned the audience at the annual Hanger LIVE educational conference event in February with an inspiring performance of "The Devil Went Down to Georgia." She played it so well, in fact, that The Charlie Daniels Band invited her to perform with them on the closing date of their tour.

In addition to her eight-year love affair with the violin, Giovanna is also an avid rock climber and occasional motivational speaker. She spoke at Hanger LIVE's opening ceremony and has championed other motivational initiatives as well, including as a key part of the employee resource group that Clemente chairs through her employer, which is dedicated to inclusivity toward people with disabilities.

"I want to inspire people to do something—to make them think or feel differently about a situation, or to be a little more aware of how to be inclusive," Giovanna says.

Giovanna shows off a Marvel superhero Iron Man arm prosthesis with her Hanger Clinic team.
From left: Elgart; Giovanna; and Michael Jenks, CPO, clinician.

The next challenge for Giovanna and her prosthetist is finding a prosthesis that will let her take her rock climbing to the next level. She's already mastered the sport indoors, but now has begun to expand her outdoor climbing experience.

Giovanna took first place in her age category last year at the USA paraclimbing National Competition as part of the Adapt Climb Group. Kareemah Batts, who has a lower-limb amputation, founded the team. The two met at a No Barriers Summit, led by the organization co-founded by Erik Weihenmayer, the first blind man to reach the summit of Mount Everest.

"Every climb is different, and I have to do it completely differently than someone with two hands," Giovanna says.

Her mom says that climbing is just one more place where her daughter inspires others.

"The way she thinks and figures out her moves is intriguing to everyone she climbs with," Clemente says. "I've had several people tell me how she's inspired them to push themselves—and I love that."

Elgart said Giovanna will continue to need activity-specific attachments to her body-powered prosthesis to accommodate her current and future activities. He says she'll need another myoelectric prosthesis as she grows.

"In working with Giovanna, I have learned that forming a great relationship with pediatrics patients and their families opens up incredible possibilities for that patient and is very rewarding," Elgart says. "Because of this relationship, I have learned to take the time to build those relationships and really understand what my pediatric patients' needs are."

If her other accomplishments weren't impressive enough, Giovanna has taken it upon herself to take courses in American sign language.

"It's a fun and amazing language," Giovanna says. "People who are deaf and sign have their own customs and humor, and it's been great to learn about another diverse group of people."

Giovanna has made a positive impression on the people at Hanger Clinic.

"Giovanna and her family are very generous with their time," Elgart says. "They continue to bless other patients and their families with support."

 

Tara McMeekin is a writer and editor based in Parker, Colorado.