The athletes you see during cheer routines doing high-flying twists and flips. Lauren, a sophomore at her Pennsylvania high school, is a flyer. In September 2019, during a stunt she’s done many times before, something went wrong. Terribly wrong. “The stunt didn’t hit, and I ended up falling and landing on my neck,” remembers the now 16-year-old. “It was like a switch that just went off, I instantly couldn’t feel my legs. I knew right away it was bad, and that my life might never be the same.”
Lauren was taken by ambulance to her local hospital where she was stabilized. Her parents were then given choices about where to transfer Lauren for her surgery and recovery. Despite it being a bit further away, they chose Nemours Children’s Hospital, Delaware. “My wife and I talked it over,” says her dad Tim. “I just knew Lauren would be well taken care of at Nemours.”
Lauren was transferred to Nemours by helicopter. From the moment they arrived in the Emergency Department, Tim knew things were serious. “The sheer number of people working on Lauren, it took my breath away. We knew it was serious, we knew this could be life-changing for all of us.” The diagnosis was a burst fracture, defined as an injury in which the vertebra, the primary bone of the spine, breaks in multiple directions. Just how badly Lauren’s injury was wouldn’t be known until surgery the next day.
Lauren’s surgical team included three of the very best in their field: orthopedic surgeons Dr. William Mackenzie and Dr. Mihir Thacker, as well as neurosurgeon Dr. Joseph Piatt. The surgery was long, but the news was good. Lauren’s spinal column, while compressed, was not penetrated.
Lauren arrived at Nemours with no sensation in her lower body … no feeling, no strength. Just how far she could come back remained to be seen. But Lauren was stubborn and determined — and very impatient! She was committed to the physical and occupational therapy treatment, and just three months later, with assistance, Lauren was walking again.
“They told me I jumped three weeks in recovery in just one week,” says Lauren. And she kept going. “Everything we asked her to do, she just did,” explains her physical therapist Stacey Travis-Treacy. “Even when it was hard, Lauren got it done.”
“Every milestone Lauren hit, we wondered, ‘Is this it? Is this as far as she goes?’” says dad Tim. “But then she’d show off something new and would amaze us all over again.” Nearly a year into her recovery Lauren is still making strides. “She’s 90% recovered and she made it look easy. This last 10% is the hardest part,” according to Dr. Eileen Shieh, her rehab doctor. “Lauren needs to build back the strength in her legs. But we know she can do it. Dr. Mackenzie calls her his Miracle Baby for a good reason!”
September 2020 marked one year since Lauren’s injury. Her determination, and spine, grows stronger each day as she inspires others, including her care team. Lauren’s contagious spirit of never giving up drives us to go above and beyond with every patient. And that contagious spirit has been spreading at Nemours unchecked since the day we opened our doors, and it’s worth catching!
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