Elena’s early beginning led to several health concerns. When she was just 15 months old she was diagnosed with cerebral palsy (CP) and other cognitive issues. At a young age she was diagnosed with scoliosis – a curvature of the spine – and wore a back brace from ages 5 to 12.
From seeing neurologists and physiologists to orthopedic surgeons and more, it’s no surprise that Elena isn’t fond of going to the doctor – she has had to see so many. But it was at age 8 that Elena started seeing Prevea Health Orthopedic Surgeon, Dr. Christopher VanSaders, that Elena finally met a doctor that maybe, just maybe…she could like.
Dr. VanSaders took his time with Elena knowing that going to the doctor wasn’t her favorite thing to do. After her initial consultation followed up by a big overview of her situation, Elena’s mom, Kim, could tell that Elena was impressed. During Dr. VanSaders big overview with Elena, he explained that she could stop wearing her brace when she was done growing. And theoretically, a patient’s back with scoliosis shouldn’t get worse once they’re done growing – but Elena’s did. When the curvature of the spine reaches 45 degrees it’s time for surgery, Elena’s curvature reached 47 degrees.
In December 2012, Elena was 13-years-old and underwent surgery at HSHS St. Mary’s Hospital Medical Center. Kim said that Dr. VanSaders explained Elena’s surgery, prepared them for what to expect and was realistic with them about how Elena would look post-surgery.
“She got excellent care, everyone looked out for her and they really knew how to treat her as a patient. I remember some nurses even singing to Elena … and that made her really happy,” remembers Kim.
Elena spent three days in the intensive care unit (ICU) and then two more days in the hospital prior to being able to go home. Because Elena’s spine needed to fuse back together, the physical therapy plan was different than most. Little milestones were taken one by one: first, Elena needed to put her legs over the bed; next, she would try sitting. Kim recalls when Elena was finally able to walk as being especially painful for her daughter. But with the help of her care team, she did it one step at a time.
Once Elena was discharged and back home, they returned to Dr. VanSaders every few months for X-rays to check on Elena’s progress. Having a specialist of Dr. VanSader’s caliber in the Green Bay area was an added plus for the family.
“It was nice to not have to go Milwaukee to have the surgery done and that we could be 15 minutes from home,” said Kim.
Today, Elena’s back is straight. And although she will always have scoliosis – at her worst, the curve was at 47 degrees, now it’s at 19 degrees. The change has been dramatic.
Elena is a student at Syble Hoppe in De Pere and loves to be out and about going places. For fun, Elena loves to go to Bay Beach, play baseball in the Miracle League and be out and about in the community.
“When you see pictures of her before and after, it’s just like ‘wow.’ It’s so cool to see her back straight when she is standing and not leaning to one side anymore,” said Kim.
Back in the saddle
When Elena was a little girl, she started doing horse therapy at Exceptional Equestrians in De Pere. However, she couldn’t ride for a year after surgery because she needed to allow time for her back to heal.
“She was so happy the first time she got to ride after surgery,” recalls Kim. “It’s wonderful to see her enjoying the things she likes to do. It makes me happy to see her doing something that makes her happy.”
And with the back surgery behind her, Elena is officially back in the saddle, doing something she loves.
“Her back is just so much straighter now – her posture is better. And this is all better for her long term; it keeps everything else in line.”