Visually impaired Luana Maione has a grand vision: She wants to open a hotel. And not just any hotel, but a hotel specifically for people with disabilities. To try and turn her dream into a reality, Luana, who hails from St. Gallen, has adopted an unusual approach.
If you have an idea but no money to put it into practice, you look for investors. Or – like 35-year-old Luana – you start a swap challenge. Luana began by offering to swap a blender for something else on her website. The idea was that the item she received in return should be worth more than the blender. And then she would keep swapping until she had the keys to her hotel. A bold plan that makes you sit up and take notice. But where did this crazy idea come from – and who exactly is Luana?
Luana was born with a congenital eye disease: glaucoma. Excessive pressure inside her eyes threatened to destroy her optic nerve. As a four-month-old baby, she had her first operation. A further 250 procedures followed over the years. As a result, Luana spent most of her time in hospital and at a boarding school for the visually impaired. Building friendships is almost impossible under such circumstances. Luana learnt early on what it was like to be different, alone, and excluded. Then there was the awful feeling of being a burden.
It was hard, but I had a power in me.
However, there were also people who encouraged Luana. For example, her grandmother in Italy. As a five-year-old, Luana spent a whole year living with her, and remembers this time as a period in her life when she was almost carefree. “My grandmother never judged me. With her, I could be myself and talk about anything.” Later on, the headmistress of Luana’s boarding school became another key person in her life. “She also took an interest in me and my worries. It irritated me at first, but over time I was able to embrace her support.” Luana usually spent her weekends at the home of her aunt – another person she has a very good relationship with.
As Luana entered adolescence, her eyes continued to deteriorate. But she fought tooth and nail to save her sight. Her remaining eyesight meant so much to her that she put up with all the drugs and operations to try and save it. The situation was not always easy for her family and friends to understand, and this led to Luana becoming increasingly isolated. “It was hard, but I had a power in me,” she tells us.
At 24, Luana Maione’s health was worse than ever. Her eye problems were compounded by severe side effects caused by her medication. One evening, she suddenly lost all feeling in the right side of her body. She was dependent on help and now also had to accept a disability pension, which she found very difficult. Shortly afterwards she became pregnant. Everyday life with a baby presented her with immense challenges. How do you change a baby’s diapers or give it a bath when you can barely see? The young mother had to figure everything out for herself. Her second son was born around a year and a half later. Luana – now a single parent – still had to make frequent visits to the doctor’s or to the emergency room when her eyes became inflamed. “I was completely exhausted. I had zero energy. It was simply a matter of survival. Still, I knew: Somehow I would pull through.” In her desperation, Luana went from one association and foundation to another, until she came across Pro Infirmis and the Red Cross. Here she finally found support. Her situation gradually eased a little.
Things eventually took a turn for the better for Luana. Just at the right moment, she got to know Samuel, who was no more than a fleeting acquaintance, just that little bit better. “I wasn't interested in him for a long time, but he just wouldn’t let go. He was there for me when I had no more strength left. I am immensely grateful to him for that.” In the meantime, Luana has found real stability in her life with her partner Samuel Künzle. Her two sons also give her a lot. “They have shown me a new kind of life. My love for my children became my greatest source of strength and inspiration.”
People with disabilities should be able to go on vacation, relax, and play sports just like everyone else.
Today Luana can enjoy her everyday life: “An understanding partner, children, a house, a cat, and a dog – I have a real home.” This may not sound like anything out of the ordinary, but for Luana, after countless crises and setbacks, it seems like a miracle that she has actually achieved all this. She thrives in her role as a mother and in running a household. She is loved and needed. Her health is also better than ever, as her intraocular pressure has normalized to some extent.
What Luana finds painful is that she can’t pursue a profession. “I absolutely want to make a difference. If I can’t work, I want to do something else that’s meaningful.” That’s why she founded the association “Luana hilft” – which translates as “Luana helps” – together with her partner Samuel. Her key concern: to create more opportunities for people with disabilities. For example, they should be able to go on vacation, relax, and play sports just like everyone else. There are lots of great technologies out there today, but they’re just not widespread enough,” says Luana.
While Luana was racking her brains trying to work out how to get closer to achieving her vision of a barrier-free hotel, she came across a TV report about swap challenges in the United States – and the idea of launching her own swap challenge was born. And so Luana Maione, who likes nothing less than being the center of attention, set out and ventured into the public eye. It will be interesting to see where the journey takes her! For Luana, one thing is for sure: “Whatever happens, there’s always a reason for it. And there are always solutions. I want my children to be able to say to their children one day: You know, Nonna made it too ...”