Couple with cerebral palsy celebrate 21 years of marriage, fighting the odds

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John and Gloria Toppi are getting ready to celebrate their 21st anniversary. But the Southgate couple will be the first to admit - it wasn't easy convincing people they were meant to be together.

"When people told me I couldn't get married because I am in a wheelchair - I told them I don't care if they are on crutches or what, if they want to get married they can get married," said John Toppi.

Both John and Gloria have been diagnosed with cerebral palsy. At that time, they were forced to live in a state-run institution. Eventually the two would meet and John says it was love at first sight.

"Everybody was lined up trying to get Gloria. I had to fight over her," he quipped. 

"John and Gloria's story needs to be told because it is such a love story and against all odds," said Tiffany Devon.

Devon, from the Detroit Wayne Mental Health Authority, says that when the state banished many institutions John and Gloria were placed in a different group homes. That made it hard for John to pursue Gloria - but not impossible.

"For six months he tried to find her and when he found her they started dating," Devon said. "When staff people, caregivers said, 'You really shouldn't, you are in a wheelchair, I don't think you should be married.' They did waiver at all.

"Their love is so strong and is still so strong."

FOX 2: "What do you like about John?"

"Just his funny ways," Gloria said.

It wasn't long before they decided to spend the rest of their lives together. With their families by their side, John and Gloria said I do.

"It's a love story for the ages and it is hopeful and it should be a testament for how well they get along together and how well they can help others," Devon said.

For many years, John ran a successful business, Toppi creative cards and design. He and his wife love to travel together. They have been to Las Vegas and Florida, and even go camping. At home they love to cook and play games.

They are able to live integrated and independent lives with help from the Detroit Wayne Mental Health Authority, which provides services to people with mental and developmental disabilities.

"They have around the clock care and their provider shows them how to work on their budget, how they can live independently with the support they need," Devon said. "And it's all about choice and inclusion. 

"Now that we are battling the stigma with mental health and disability it is important to celebrate ability. We can always look at the negative, let's look at the positive."

Like John and Gloria, who despite their challenges look forward to each day living like any other married couple.

FOX 2: "Do you ever fight?"

"Sometimes," Gloria said. 

"And Gloria always wins," Devon joked.

>>>For more information about the Detroit Wayne Mental Health Authority and services it offers, go to: