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Zoe Rises Above Sever’s Disease to Dance en Pointe

An enthusiastic ballet dancer, Zoe Shepard couldn’t wait to finally dance en pointe. When Sever’s disease and heel pain got in the way, she found the perfect healing partner: a dancer turned sports physical therapist.

Teen girl leaping in pediatric sports medicine dance program

For aspiring ballet dancers, dancing “en pointe” demands both years of practice and a great deal of patience. Young dancers must wait until the bones in their feet harden, enabling them to balance entirely on their toes.

“It would be so bad that I couldn’t roll through my foot or walk,” Zoe says. “I’d be limping.” While her peers practiced, Zoe had to sit out.

Zoe would later be diagnosed with Sever’s disease, a painful inflammation of the heel’s growth plate.

Searching for the right care

While her ballet studio had on-site physical therapy, her insurance wasn’t accepted there. Zoe’s mother, Ronda, began looking for a program that was both nearby and well attuned to the needs of growing dancers. With Zoe’s rigorous five-day-a-week training and rehearsal schedule, convenience would be key.

“We had a horrible time trying to find therapy that was reasonable [and] close by and that knew what to do with her. It seemed like because she was a dancer, it was a little more challenging,” Ronda said.

Then Ronda found Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta and its Sports Medicine Program for sports physical therapy. Coincidentally, the family had been driving past the Ivy Walk location each day on the way to Zoe’s school.

A dancer’s perspective

Zoe’s new sports physical therapist wasn’t just conveniently located. She was also a former dancer herself. Colleen Crosby, PT, DPT, SCS, drew on her background to work closely with Zoe, correcting her movements and reducing the odds of future injuries.

Zoe found a willing and able training partner in her therapist. “Even if it wasn’t specifically why I was going [to therapy], even if I was having pain in my knee or little things like that, I was able to go to Colleen, and she was able to give me tips that I could translate to what I did in class,” Zoe said. “It was fun because you kind of learn more about your body, in a sense.”

Battling multiple conditions

Since her brush with Sever’s disease, Zoe has also been diagnosed with Haglund’s deformity (a bony enlargement on the back of the heel) and snapping hip syndrome (also known as dancer’s hip). The team at Children’s helped her with all three—as well as a broken toe.

While ballet might not make everyone’s list of physically demanding sports, Zoe is proof that it can take a toll. But she’s still dancing. And each time she faces a new challenge, she returns to Children’s for top-tier pediatric care.

“I just think it’s important that kids go where people know how to deal with them,” Ronda says. “They know that these people are here for them, and they feel comfortable. The therapists are just really great with the kids. It makes a bad situation a whole lot better.”

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