Almost as soon as she could stand, Leighton Jordan was up on her toes. Her dream was to be a successful ballet dancer one day.
“It was my life,” she said. “I started when I was 2-years-old. I did a lot of other things, played sports, but I always chose ballet, and I sacrificed a lot for it.”
A series of injuries as a teenager cut her promising career short, however, and now Leighton has a new dream: providing the same kind of care to others that she received at Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta.
The journey to her new dream started at 15 years old when Leighton was accepted to Houston Ballet, one of the most prestigious ballet companies in the country. Her mother, Clemmie, did not hesitate to send her daughter halfway across the country, proud of the fact that Leighton was the second youngest ever accepted to the program.
While in Houston, Leighton was on the move from morning to night, exercising or dancing throughout the day with only a few breaks. The schedule quickly took a toll on her body, most notably her right ankle.
“I was constantly hurting,” she said. “My poor bones, they just couldn’t handle it all and I was experiencing a lot of pain.”
Clemmie brought her daughter back home to Atlanta receive treatment at the Children’s Sports Medicine Program. Medical Director David Marshall, M.D., found that Leighton had os trigonum syndrome, a condition in which a callous, bony formation develops behind the ankle bone from repetitive stress.
Unfortunately for Leighton, that stress is often caused by repeatedly pointing the toes downward, something a ballet dancer has to do constantly in the en pointe position. That position can also sandwich the extra formation between the ankle and heel bones, resulting in severe pain and a limited range of motion.
Surgical director Michael Busch, M.D., repaired her right ankle by removing the extra formation. Leighton then spent eight weeks in physical therapy with Bob Breingan, P.T., D.P.T., Manager of the Sports Medicine Program.
Breingan said he had to become a student of dance to help Leighton return to a professional level and developed an expansive program designed for dancers. Treating her foot meant building support through the rest of her body.
“Dancers are very complex,” Breingan said. “Most issues with the feet come from the core and hips, so that is what we worked on. Now, we are really good at working with dancers. If you don’t understand their needs, you can’t help them.”
After physical therapy, Leighton was able to return to Houston after her treatment and went right back to the level she danced at before the surgery.
Less than a year later, she started feeling familiar pain in her left ankle. Once again, Leighton came back to Children’s and received the same treatment for os trigonum she had on her right ankle and spent another two months in physical therapy.
“This one was really bad,” she said. “My doctors really worked together to get me through that time.”
Leighton spent nearly a combined year receiving treatment at Children’s but was able to return to a professional level after each surgery. She said the personal care she received at Children’s made a difficult time tolerable.
“The one-on-one care really stood out,” she said “It started with the nurses and moved on to Dr. Marshall and Dr. Busch. They really understood my circumstances. My physical therapy was a really trying time. Bob spent so much time with me and made feel so much better.”
Despite two successful surgeries and two stints in physical therapy, a stress fracture in her foot forced 19-year-old Leighton to hang up her dreams of a professional dancing career. Now, she puts the energy she spent on ballet into her new goal of being a nurse practitioner focusing on pediatric oncology.
She volunteers weekly at the Aflac Cancer Center and Blood Disorder Center but still finds time to squeeze in a few dance classes when possible.
“My experience at Children’s solidified my decision,” she said. “I really wanted to give back to Children’s after all they had done for me.”