Heather Dean didn’t worry too much last winter when the junior high school sent a letter home informing her that a routine screening at the school showed her daughter Katlyn may have scoliosis and needed to see a doctor. Their doctor referred them to Children’s of Alabama, where they got their first dose of reality.
At first, Heather and Katlyn assumed she would need to wear a brace for a few years and then everything would be fine. But the doctor said the curvature of her spine was so great that she needed spinal fusion surgery to fix it. The operation would involve a steel bar be screwed into her spine to straighten it.
The news was frightening, especially for Katlyn, who is a competitive dancer. “I thought, what is going to happen to her? She loves to dance,” Heather recalls.
Once home from the initial doctor’s visit, Heather Googled videos of the surgery and braced herself for the surgery her daughter would need. The doctor said he preferred to perform the surgery in June or December because those months allowed time for the child to recover while not in school. Katlyn opted to have the surgery in June, just days after her 13th birthday, in hopes she would be well enough to participate in a dance competition in January.
It was an extreme goal, and Katlyn’s doctor told her not to be upset if she wasn’t up for the competition. Her body would let her know what she could do. Katlyn remained optimistic and in June underwent surgery at Children’s.
The operation was a success and the first 24 hours were tough. Katlyn was in pain, but she proved to be a fighter. She was walking before she left the hospital and only took pain medication as needed. After a week, she was medication-free.
Recovery seemed slow, but Katlyn refused to be kept down. Just three weeks after surgery she participated in a master’s class with her dance group. She was cautious, but determined. At first she was tentative about moving, worrying that any movement might break her back. But she soon gained confidence and her mobility increased daily.
Katlyn’s determination paid off. In January 2013, she participated in three competitive dance events. It was a third of the events she usually participates in, but it was a huge milestone nonetheless.
“The biggest thing for us is she loves to dance,” Heather says. “It’s her life, so we are happy she is able to still do it.”