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Bieber show a special treat for South Greensburg girl

Sean Stipp | Tribune-Review
Bailie Zilli and her mother, Nicole Zilli, talk about the upcoming Justin Bieber concert. Bailie, who suffered brain damage when she nearly drowned in a backyard swimming pool, had lost motivation for physical therapy until her therapist played her favorite music — Justin Bieber. The staff at Excela’s outpatient pediatric therapy center in Youngwood spent a month trying to find her handicapped-access tickets to his show in Pittsburgh at Consol Energy Center Tuesday evening.

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Tuesday, Nov. 20, 2012, 12:01 a.m.

Like many girls her age, 11-year-old Bailie Zilli has “Bieber Fever.”

The South Greensburg girl will be the envy of many of her peers on Tuesday as she and her mother, Nicole Zilli, head to Pittsburgh for pop star Justin Bieber's concert at Consol Energy Center.

As a 2-year-old, Bailie was discovered floating facedown in a neighbor's swimming pool in South Greensburg on June 30, 2003, leaving her critically injured.

She has learned to use a wheelchair and walker, and attends the fifth grade at Hutchinson Elementary School.

Bailie has weekly physical, speech and occupational therapy at Excela Health Outpatient Rehabilitation in Youngwood.

Her therapists have learned that, on days when Bailie's motivation slips, a little dose of Justin Bieber can reinvigorate her.

As a surprise for Bailie and her family, Excela marketing coordinator Susan Stripay was tasked with finding the girl tickets for Tuesday's concert.

And they could not be just any tickets, Zilli said. Her daughter would require wheelchair-accessible seating.

“It became a personal mission,” Stripay said on Monday.

She finally found a contact who was able to help her, and the tickets were provided at no cost to the family, Zilli said.

Stripay said the Greensburg Salem Education Association donated funds for a wheelchair-accessible van to transport Bailie to the concert.

Since learning about the tickets, 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,” 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,” Zilli said.

Sister Gabby, 2, loves to dance to Bieber's music, while brother Dominic, 6, teases Bailie about her musical taste, their mother said.

Wearing a purple shirt (reportedly Bieber's favorite color) with her crush's face all over it, Bailie worked on a pommel swing Monday with physical therapist Diane Campbell.

After learning she liked Bieber, her therapeutic team began using his videos as a reward.

“One day when she was not particularly motivated, we thought, ‘Let's try some Justin.' We pulled him up on a video on a cellphone. She heard the first couple of notes and she was right on it,” Campbell said.

A video of Excela Health staff members presenting Bailie with her concert tickets and several accompanying gifts shows her grinning reaction.

“We were all in tears. How could you say no to that face?” Stripay said.

Although Bailie has gone back and forth between which parent will accompany her, Nicole or dad Tom, her mother is looking forward to a mother-daughter moment.

She recalled her own trip with a girlfriend and that girl's mother to see the New Kids on the Block years ago.

“It's one of those fun experiences every little girl should have,” Zilli said.

Mary Pickels is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 724-836-5401 or

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