'I beat all their odds': Milwaukee restaurant owner overcomes rare disease to open new deli

NOW: ’I beat all their odds’: Milwaukee restaurant owner overcomes rare disease to open new deli

MILWAUKEE (CBS 58) – Joena Vitale describes the last year of her life as "enlightening."

For years, it was Vitale's dream to eventually open her own restaurant in Milwaukee.

"We needed something for our retirement, future, what do we want to do," Vitale said.

After five years of planning, she was almost ready to open Third Coast Gourmet, an upscale deli in the Third Ward, in mid-2023.

Last July, however, that dream came to a halt, when she began to feel weakness and pain in her legs.

She thought it was a stroke, and doctors said it was a migraine. A few days later, it became more serious.

I went to go to the bathroom, and I just dropped on the floor, and there I was. I couldn't get up," Vitale said. "They started doing more tests, did a spinal tap, and it immediately came back with Guillain-Barre syndrome."

The rare condition causes muscle weakness and paralysis.

Just a few days after her diagnosis, Vitale was paralyzed from the waist down.

"They started treatments immediately, and five days of treatments, and the treatments started to work," Vitale said.

She then went to in-patient rehab for physical therapy; but her goal never left her mind.

"I said, I have a restaurant to open. I can't be like this. This has to move forward," Vitale said. "Even while I was in the rehab facility, my designer came in, and we started picking the paint colors."

After just seven weeks, Vitale left rehab with a walker. Last month, she moved to walking sticks.

"I told the doctor, I will not leave this place in a wheelchair," Vitale said. "I beat all their odds."

Now, Vitale said she sees progress every day, both with her mobility and her new business.

I'm a very positive person. I just have to make things happen," Vitale said. "I feel that's actually helped me to heal faster, I really do."

Third Coast Gourmet will open in late January 2024 in the Third Ward's Rennaissance Building.

The menu will include sandwiches with Boar's Head meat, soups, fresh salads, and more.

Vitale also plans to regularly host live music and events.

"We're not just a sub shop. It's going to be more, it's going to be a destination," Vitale said.

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