Just nine days after her high school graduation last year, Grace reached another major life milestone: undergoing the biggest surgery of her life.
The 18-year-old was born with spastic quadriplegic cerebral palsy. The severe condition affects her upper and lower extremities; she has been in a wheelchair since she was four years old. By 2015, she had also developed severe spinal scoliosis due to her neurologic condition of cerebral palsy.
The 70-degree curve in her spine was continuing to progress, making day-to-day life painful, and difficult, she said. She couldn’t sit up straight due to her noticeably crooked spine, and her hips were uneven.
By 2020, Grace’s skeleton was mature enough to pursue a surgical fix for the scoliosis, said Dr. Jill Larson, Assistant Professor in Lurie Children’s Division of Orthopaedic Surgery and Sports Medicine who specializes in complex spine disorders. The eight-hour surgery would not only straighten Grace’s spine but keep it from curving more. It would help center her head over her pelvis so she could sit upright again.
“Leading up to the moment of surgery was super nerve-racking, because I was moving into the next phase of my life,” Grace said.
Grace underwent a procedure known as a posterior spinal fusion. Using two titanium rods and 19 screws, Dr. Larson set up a stable construct within Grace’s back that would help the curved vertebrae in her spine fuse together, ultimately straightening her spine.
The 70-degree curve in her spine Grace had been dealing with decreased by 45 degrees. She was able sit up straighter and more comfortably than she had been able to for as long as she could remember.
“After my surgery was complete, it was like I was able to view the world from a whole different perspective,” Grace said. “Being able to experience that for the first time was probably one of the most amazing things that I could ever experience.”
Dr. Larson monitored Grace following surgery regularly, but now, more than a year since the procedure, Grace will only have to return to the clinic annually for check-ups.
“Lurie Children’s was the best hospital for me to receive care because I know Dr. Larson and her team chose a treatment that will best help me succeed in the future,” Grace said.
Today, Grace takes classes at a community college and is working toward a degree in psychology. Looking ahead, Grace is sure the obstacles she has had to overcome related to her health have made her a stronger person.
“Positivity is key when you’re faced with an obstacle,” she said. “Being able to stay positive through the whole situation really shows how strong of a person you are.”