'Good Morning America' surprises NYC nurse, disability advocate with $1 million

Watch the moment Andrea Dalzell learns she was awarded $1 million on live TV.

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Thursday, September 10, 2020
'Good Morning America' surprises NYC nurse, disability advocate with $1 million
"Good Morning America" surprised Andrea Dalzell, New York City's only registered nurse who uses a wheelchair, with a $1 million gift on Thursday, Sept. 10.

NEW YORK -- "Good Morning America" surprised New York City's only registered nurse who uses a wheelchair with a $1 million gift on Thursday.

When Andrea Dalzell received the award on live TV, she instantly shared how she could use the prize to benefit her disability advocacy work.

"I want to start a whole program for people with disabilities to get into health care. They should be given a chance," she said.

The surprise was one of "GMA's" "Tell T.J." segments, which asks viewers to highlight someone "whose incredible story, kindness, or generosity" deserves the spotlight.

When segment host and ABC News correspondent T.J. Holmes met Andrea, he said "so many people" called in to tell him about her.

Before the big reveal, "GMA" played a news package on Dalzell, showing her life story and interviews with loved ones that brought the Brooklyn native to tears.

At a young age, Andrea Dalzell was diagnosed with a disorder and became wheelchair-bound. Now, she's a registered nurse and disability advocate.

At five years old, the "bouncy" and "vivacious" Andrea was diagnosed with transverse myelitis, a neurological disorder that causes inflammation of the spinal cord and affects her ability to walk.

Her parents said at first they thought the disorder was a "minor mishap" but then were devastated to learn that their oldest child would be wheelchair-bound.

"I think I went completely numb. I blamed myself. I thought I didn't do something right," said Sharon Dalzell, Andrea's mother. "I thought there was something I could have done different that could have allowed her to walk. I stood outside the door and, I promised myself I wouldn't do this, but I've never allowed her to see me cry. That was the most important thing for me."

But Andrea "grew from five years old to 50 years old" and assured her parents that she would be OK.

"I became the child and she became the mother," Sharon Dalzell said.

The determined and dedicated Andrea excelled in life, graduating with honors and receiving many awards for her advocacy work and leadership, including the Cindy Loo Disability Rights Advocate Award in 2015.

Her hard work brought her to a career in medicine. She became a registered nurse in 2018 and earned her bachelor's degree that same year.

When the pandemic hit, Andrea stepped up, and now, she's a different kind of frontline worker -- a nurse and department head for a local school.

"She's not only extraordinarily professional and smart and good at what she does, but also very approachable and the kids absolutely love her," said Kim Busi, founder of The Quad Manhattan, a New York City-based summer camp.

She's currently the city's only RN in a wheelchair, but she's working to change that.

"People with disabilities aren't living a death sentence," Andrea Dalzell said. "They're living life, and I get to prove that every day that I'm going to do that. I need to be able to change that narrative for others so if they know that they're diagnosed with something ... that life doesn't stop there. Life still happens, and it's up to them to decide if they want to live it."

She believes the health care industry needs more workers who are physically challenged in order to help patients in similar situations.

Her mother shared an example of how patients with disabilities face obstacles when receiving care.

"You go into a doctor's office, you can't get up on the table. Many times, I had to lift her," she said.

The unrestricted $1 million donation was a part of the Craig H. Neilsen Foundation Visionary Prize, which is "meant to draw attention to and celebrate passionate individuals advancing the world of [the spinal cord injury field]."

"I just want to be able to give back to people. So many people put into my life, that if I can give just a little bit of that back, then I've done everything that I'm supposed to do in the world," Andrea Dalzell said.