In July 2015, I was at the top of the dance world and feeling good. I had just won Mini Dancer of the Year at the Dance Awards Nationals in Las Vegas, NV. How was I to know that was the last time I would compete for three years?
Dance had been a part of my life for as long as I can remember. I started dancing when I was 2 and I loved it. I progressed in my dance studies throughout the years, winning many individual and group awards with my dance company. Dance was my life.
But in 2015, I had been having problems with my left hip, but we thought it was from training too hard. It turned out to be way more serious than that. When my hip pain increased, my mom and I went to the doctor to get it examined. The news wasn’t good. I left the doctor on crutches and told to keep off my leg until further tests could be done.
After a few days, the doctor called with the news that I had “Perthes Disease.” I had no idea what that was, so my mom took to the internet to find out all she could about the disease and the doctors who specialized in the treatment. Soon, we were traveling to Florida to see a specialist. After the initial assessment, it was determined that I would need an external fixator. This surgery involved my hip being dislocated from the socket and screws attached to the bone and to a metal bar on the outside of my thigh. I was so scared, and my mom and grandma cried a lot. After the surgery, I was in a wheelchair for some time, and then graduated to crutches.
School was difficult. It was hard to maneuver around campus. I depended a lot on my friends, who were great. During this time, my mom communicated with a lot of other families who were going through the same thing. We found out that there were a lot of kids that had Perthes disease and there were a lot of opinions on the treatment. I continued to go to dance to “observe,” but it was hard to be a spectator.
My fixator was removed on 2/15/16 and my hip was back in the socket. Hopefully, the hip ball was hard enough and round enough to work. I was placed in a back brace, still on crutches, gradually able to walk without crutches. After six weeks, the doctor said I was ready to go and the back brace was removed. The doctor said that his work was done and now it was up to me to get stronger and back on the dance floor. I was so excited, but after two weeks, the pain was back, and tests showed that the center of the hip ball had collapsed again. I was facing this ordeal all over again. That was a very hard time.
After further internet searching and talking with other Perthes families, it was decided that I would do the next surgery in Portugal with a world-renowned Perthes specialist. That was quite an experience, having major surgery in a foreign country. Even though I knew what to expect from the surgery, I dreaded going through it again. I came home from Portugal with another fixator on my hip, back on crutches for four more months. I was able to take some medication from Portugal that helped to harden the bone in my hip. After tests showed that the fixator was ready to come off, we went back to Portugal and came home in another back brace!
As time went by, the back brace was removed, and I was able to start dancing. I spent a lot of hours in physical therapy trying to improve my range of motion and to strengthen the muscles in my leg. I was thankful to be able to walk again and do some dance training. I was even a “Pommie” my freshmen year of high school.
As my hip healed, it wasn’t as round as it should be, and my range of motion wasn’t improving. I was also experiencing some return of pain. By this time, I am 15 years old, a long way from the 11 year old that first started this journey. We were told at the beginning of all the procedures that one day I would need a hip replacement. I had to decide if I should do that now or wait until I was older.
My family and I went to Paris, France to see a doctor who specialized in custom-made hip replacements for dancers and athletes. After meeting with him, it was determined that I was a good candidate, but he wanted me to think about it and call him when I was ready. He said it had to be my decision. We came back home and after some serious soul searching, I decided to go ahead with the surgery. We returned to Paris so my hip could be measured for the custom implant. I met with some of his patients and read stories of the success of the surgery. Many of these success stories were dancers and athletes who had returned to their previous activities without pain or restrictions. This made me feel better about my decision. My hope was that I could dance again and be a normal teenager!
After numerous trips to Paris for tests, surgery and follow up, I am dancing again and living my life like a normal teenager (maybe not too normal)! The best part is that most days, I don’t even think about my hip. It feels normal! I think my mom and dad still worry that I might land wrong or twist something and will have to start all over again.
During this journey, everyone said I was so brave and always had a good attitude, but there were days I was afraid and cried a lot of tears, asking myself, “Why me”? I didn’t realize how much I loved dance until it was taken away from me.
My future goals include getting back in competitive dance, becoming a choreographer and teacher and graduating from high school. This experience has helped me to appreciate all that I have!
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