Fifteen-year-old Caroline Tracy’s story with Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta has lasted nearly a decade.
At 5 years old, Caroline was thrown from her mother’s car after it was hit by a drunk driver. Her mother died from the accident and Caroline suffered severe brain trauma.
Emergency responders flew Caroline by helicopter to the Intensive Care Unit at Egleston hospital, where providers placed her in a drug-induced coma. Her physician eventually pulled her out of the coma and she recovered after several hard months. She has minor memory and learning issues as a result of the crash.
The following year, Caroline’s aunt and uncle, Dean and Wes Harris, took over legal guardianship of Caroline when her father could no longer take care of her due to an illness of his own.
“She is such a miracle child,” Dean said. “She has come such a long way.”
But Caroline’s time with Children’s was not over. Before the car accident, Caroline was diagnosed with scoliosis. At age 7, she was placed in a Boston Brace, a plastic brace that is worn between 16 and 22 hours a day and is used to keep the spine from curving more.
Caroline dutifully wore the brace every day for three years despite considerable discomfort and little to no improvement to her spine.
“Wearing the brace was really hard for me,” Caroline said. “It was hard to get comfortable with. In the end, I just couldn’t take it anymore. I wanted to know what our other options were.”
Choosing to improve her niece’s quality of life, Dean allowed Caroline to stop wearing the brace around age 10 and looked for other options. Her curve eventually progressed to a severe double curvature.
In the summer of 2011, Caroline was trying on bathing suits with her aunt and saw her back in the mirror. She started crying, saying she looked like a monster. Caroline was also complaining about difficulty breathing and chest pains.
“Her scoliosis measured 75 degrees and was causing significant spinal rotation, imbalance, and deformity,” Nicholas Fletcher, M.D., a pediatric orthopaedic surgeon at Egleston hospital.
That was when Dean reached out to Children’s again for a better solution and was put in touch with Dr. Fletcher. He recommended a posterior spinal fusion surgery with instrumentation to correct Caroline’s curve. In this procedure, the spine is fused and implanted with rods and screws to help correct the deformity.
“That man is a miracle worker,” Dean said. “He answered every one of our questions. It was all about Caroline. He convinced us that surgery was the way to go.”
Caroline had her surgery in November of 2011. She went through a difficult recovery process, waking up every morning and stretching with her aunt. Almost a year later, she is feeling more confident. Her curve is down to 15 degrees and any spinal deformity is nearly unnoticeable.
“Children’s has taught me to live a more healthy life,” Caroline said. “I feel great right now. I’m a lot more confident and looking forward to a bright future.”
Caroline is able to enjoy the things most teenage girls do, like shopping for clothes and reading books. Her teachers at Walton High School even awarded her with an award for Outstanding Courage and Leadership this past fall.
“She used to go into hiding,” Dean said. “Now, she doesn’t have to hide anymore. Now, she walks with confidence and a huge smile on her face.”