Dance Like Everyone Is Watching

There is no clear-cut cause for scoliosis. It’s a disease that causes a sideways curvature of the spine, and it happens most frequently during growth spurts prior to puberty. Why? Don’t know. It may be hereditary but, even if it is, we still don’t know the original, root cause.

Most cases are mild, often with no symptoms. It can worsen, however, in some children as they grow older. These cases can become quite painful as well as disabling. The condition cannot be cured.

Kierstin Ganson, 14, has scoliosis. The disabling kind, and that just does not work for a kid who’s been dancing since she was four-years-old.

Surgical treatment for scoliosis is a matter of timing, a matter of when to do it in terms of the growth spurts. Misjudge the time and the results could be permanently crippling.

“I knew we were looking at a serious decision when she came to me one day and said she could no longer dance without pain,” recalled Heather Ganson, Kierstin’s mother.

“She was in a growth spurt, and timing was critical,” continued Heather. “Scoliosis is not a stranger in my family. I had surgery when I was a kid and all four of my children have it to one degree or another. Kierstin’s is the worst.

“According to research, Scottish Rite has the gold standard for the scoliosis surgical procedure. We made an appointment and were lucky enough to meet with the head of surgery. He said it was definitely time to go ahead and do it. He had it scheduled and done in two weeks.”

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October 29, 2019, was the date. Surgery took 3 ½-hours. Heather’s surgery years earlier was nine-plus hours.

Kierstin was the perfect patient. She went into the operating room strong, flexible, and supple because of her years of dancing. She was up and out of bed a few hours after recovery and walking the halls the next day.

Recovery was hard. Heather knew it would be, which is why she debated with Kierstin’s father as to whether or not their daughter should even have the surgery. But Kierstin worked just as hard, physically and emotionally.

“She was home seven weeks,” said Heather. “Yes, there were tears from time to time. There were a couple of ‘Why me’ episodes. One day she was
talking about her dancing. She said, ‘Other people like it, but I love it.’ That’s when we would go for a drive and talk about other things.”

Kierstin continued working, returning to Marcus High School after Christmas. She’s on the drill team there and is also the youngest member of an elite dance team.

“She’s very good and extremely competitive,” said Heather. “Dance and drill are really two different forms or styles but she really excels at both.

“She got herself back into physical shape and actually participated in two competitions before spring break. Then COVID-19 hit, and everything shut down. After that is when she auditioned virtually for the Marquettes. She made it, but it wasn’t easy.”

Kierstin has regained her flexibility, but there are some physical limitations in the areas where the rods were placed during surgery. Her resilient determination is allowing her to learn how to compensate.

Public dance performances have been extremely restricted during COVID, but Kierstin is due for her 12-month post-surgical clearance evaluation. If all goes well, and if COVID-19 would move along, Kierstin will be dancing as if everyone is watching. After all, it was the love of dance that gave her the courage to endure the surgery and its risks.

photos courtesy of Heather Ganson