Standing Taller Than Ever: Dancer shares experience with life-changing surgery


Courtesy of Tanya Gassett

Ready to leave the hospital, junior Sophia Gassett is very excited to go home after being in the hospital for five days. Gassett’s spinal fusion surgery took place on Nov. 9 and lasted 10 hours. “It was an experience that I will never forget and one that has changed my life for the better,” Gassett said.

Sophia Gassett, Photographer

All that was racing through my mind was the fear of the unknown and wondering if I would ever dance again. My parents had made the difficult decision to schedule my spinal fusion surgery. There was so much fear and anticipation on how this would impact me and my future.
When I was 12, I was diagnosed with scoliosis. I had a 32-degree curvature in my spine, shaped like an “S”. At the time, being 12, I didn’t know what it meant to have scoliosis and how it would impact my life. For five years of my teenage life, my parents were trying and researching other solutions. I wore two different back braces for three years and had to do treatment exercises and physical therapy strictly for scoliosis, but nothing seemed to help me.
Growing up, people bullied me because of the way my back looked. I was known as “the girl who had a rib hump and wore a back brace.” It was really hard living with scoliosis and feeling as if I was different. The last resort and final option to fix my scoliosis permanently was spinal fusion surgery. I knew I was going to have this surgery eventually, but I just didn’t know when that time would come.
Fast forward to a few short months ago, spinal fusion surgery was becoming more of a reality. My curve had increased to 116 degrees. I was considered a very rare case of scoliosis. The days prior to surgery were filled with so much anxiety, fear and stress. It was difficult accepting what the future would hold for me and what my life would look like after. I had been dancing for 14 years and wasn’t sure if I was going to be able to dance again.
The morning of my surgery I had so many feelings: I was upset, mad, scared, anxious — every emotion you could think of. I had spinal fusion surgery the morning of Nov. 9. I was in the operating room for 10 hours and wasn’t able to see my parents for 12.
After two titanium rods and 27 screws entered my spine, the curve decreased to 40 degrees. I now have a permanent mark from the surgery, an 18-inch scar. I also grew 3 inches. It was a miracle the surgery was such a success. It was an unimaginable feeling knowing this major surgery was over. I was inpatient at Children’s Mercy hospital for five days and then was finally able to go home.
Recovery at home was tough. Those two months at home were full of pain, exhaustion, challenges and so much more. Not only was this experience life-changing, but it was also eye-opening. It made me realize how precious life is and to find gratitude in something each day.
I also missed two months of school right before finals, which was not ideal. I knew I would miss a few weeks of school, but I was not expecting the slowness of my recovery. It was hard feeling so stressed and behind. The teachers were generous and flexible with me, and they made it much easier.
This made my return back to school go so much smoother. I was more than excited to go back to school after being gone. Of course, recovery at home was imperative, but after time passed, I was ready to go back to normal life.
My first day back felt like my first day of high school all over again. Since I hadn’t been there in so long, I remember walking in and I felt as if all eyes were on me, but in reality they weren’t. I was panicking over nothing. My friends, teachers and the Miege community were excited I was back. Seeing everyone made it that much easier to go back comfortably.
I also was finally able to go back to dance at the beginning of January I was more than excited to get back into the studio. Going back it was challenging to navigate my dancing skills. It took me a while to gain back my dance technique, and I am still to this day working on getting everything back. With lots of practice and determination, I have been working to reach where I was prior to surgery.
My journey with my back taught me to have a different outlook on things and to always stay positive. Life can be hard and full of struggles, but with God by my side anything is possible. Before my surgery, when I was wheeled back to the operating room, there was a moment that I was so afraid. I prayed to God before I went back for him to protect and heal me. God walked with me through this journey and taught me to never give up.