UA professor brings inspiring story to life through film

Imagine being two years old, waking up in a foreign country and not being able to walk anymore. Debra Johanyak, English professor at UA’s Wayne Campus, has been working on a very important story when not lecturing or grading college essays. For the past two years, she has been writing and directing the film More Than Chance.

The film was inspired by the true life story of Kelsey Minick. According to Kelsey’s current adoptive mother, Sue Minick, Kelsey was adopted from an orphanage in Russia by a couple living in the Akron area. Kelsey lived in a Russian orphanage for two years prior.


Imagine being two years old, waking up in a foreign country and not being able to walk anymore. Debra Johanyak, English professor at UA’s Wayne Campus, has been working on a very important story when not lecturing or grading college essays. For the past two years, she has been writing and directing the film More Than Chance.

The film was inspired by the true life story of Kelsey Minick. According to Kelsey’s current adoptive mother, Sue Minick, Kelsey was adopted from an orphanage in Russia by a couple living in the Akron area. Kelsey lived in a Russian orphanage for two years prior.

The conditions in the orphanage were horrible. The children’s diet was very limited, with porridge as the usual staple. They had to shave the children’s hair to prevent them from spreading lice. The babies did not wear diapers; instead, they wore several layers of clothing and would remove each layer as they became soiled. If a child could survive these conditions, she would either be adopted or moved to another orphanage.

She [Kelsey] was there for two years and never bonded with anybody, Sue Minick said. Kelsey was then adopted and taken to America, a country whose citizens speak a foreign language to her.

I screamed the whole flight to America, said Kelsey Minick, who remembers stories told of her journey.

The couple who adopted her was local. The wife worked while the husband stayed home recovering from surgery and overseeing Kelsey. They also had a neighbor come over to help watch her.

Kelsey began to show injuries while her adoptive mother was at work, but her adoptive father would explain them away. One day, her adoptive mother received a call that would forever change Kelsey’s life; her husband said Kelsey was hurt and his wife needed to come home. When she arrived, Kelsey was lying on the floor and not moving. In a panic, the wife picked Kelsey up and rushed her to the hospital. Kelsey’s spine was broken. According to Johanyak, who was able to review the police report, Kelsey was either thrown against her crib rail or dashed to the floor by her adoptive father. He was arrested, tried, and sentenced to 16 years in prison.

That is nothing in comparison to the life sentence that Kelsey has to face. For several years after the incident, she would scream every time a man entered the room. I was afraid that he would try [to] come and find me, Kelsey said, referring to her first adoptive father.

The doctors explained that she had post-traumatic stress disorder and that she may never recover. They tried to talk me out of adopting her because not only would I have to deal with her physical issues, but I’d also have to take on her mental issues. I took her home and she screamed for a good three months. Everything would terrify her. I never, ever left her side, Sue Minick explained.

Kelsey has to stand in a stander wheel chair for six to seven hours a day to keep her lungs clear and help her to grow. She also has two canes, and with their assistance she is able to walk around her home for two to three hours a day.

Most kids with spinal cord injuries don’t grow. It is just amazing how much taller she has gotten, Sue Minick said.

In spite of her disability, Kelsey never stops dreaming and maintains a positive attitude.

Just seeing Kelsey’s enthusiasm for life, her unquenchable passion for ballet, and her upbeat way of encouraging others despite her disability. Kelsey is a typical 10-year-old, fun and funny to be around. She has a great sense of humor and likes playing pranks. She is very intelligent and enjoys learning new things. She is not held back by her disability. She has a kind heart and is sensitive toward others instead of being self-absorbed, explained writer/ director Debra Johanyak.

Kelsey’s personal message to kids facing similar life challenges: Just because you are in a wheelchair or blind does not mean you can’t follow your dreams.

Today, when you ask Kelsey about her injury, she will just blurt right out and say, Oh my other adoptive Dad went in a rage, dropped me and broke my back. One man at church looked like he was going to faint when I told him. And I just said, that’s ok. It’s ok because when I go to heaven me and my Mom are just going to run around in the clouds and play tag. I am going to get all the time back that I wasted in the chair and I am going to spend it walking.

More Than Chancewill be shown at 7 p.m. at Wayne College Campus in the auditorium to recognize Child Abuse Awareness Month. Some of the cast members will be present to meet and greet audience members. University students are encouraged to attend this free screening.

I showed the trailer to my film in a community presentation, and there were a few sniffles, Johanyak said. This is a movie that everyone should see, but especially those considering adoption or considering going into social work. The film will be touring to various venues in the area and DVD’s are available for purchase at www.morethanchancemovie.com.  The film also began streaming globally on Easter weekend via CTN’s Lifestyle division. Tampa WCLF digital channel 22.4 and West Palm WFGC channel 61.4 will broadcast More than Chance monthly beginning in May.


” #1.2207697:3612034950.jpg:More than chance:More than Chance was directed by UA English profesor Debra Jahonyak. The film is based on the true story of a girl adopted from a Russian orphanage:Courtesy of Debra Jahonyak”