When Amanda Myers wanted to thank the man she credits with saving her life, an off-the-shelf card wouldn't do. So, she wrote a poem instead. "You have taken my pain away; you have given me back my childhood," Amanda, 17, told Dr. David Siambanes. "Because of your gift as a surgeon, I have a new life." Born with cerebral palsy, Amanda's life hasn't been easy. When she was very young, her mother was told that some children with cerebral palsy learn to walk and some don't. Doctors also warned that she would have stiff or tight muscles and exaggerated reflexes, all of which might become more problematic as Amanda entered adolescence.
When Kathy Myers looked into the intense blue eyes of her only child, she saw a bright, keen-to-learn child with a big heart and a delightful sense of humor.
"When they are young, you don't realize what's coming," said Myers. "You think, 'She'll be different.' No one can really tell you what it will be like."
The family didn't worry about the future. Instead, they lived in the present, accepting what came each day.
Amanda says her father, Kenny Myers, has a memory of her walking around a grocery store.
"I don't believe him," Amada said. "I don't remember. But I did walk at one point in time."
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As Amanda grew older, she could get around in a manual wheelchair, but tired easily. Physically attending school was difficult and academics became frustrating.
"Teachers had a hard time seeing past the wheelchair," said Myers.
Halfway through the third grade, Amanda began receiving home tutoring services.
When it was time for high school, the Brooksville teen decided to try attending school again, eventually phasing in a full day at Nature Coast Technical High School, just down the street from her home.
She made friends and bonded with teachers. She found her own voice, clear and strong.
"I've learned to advocate for myself instead of staying quiet," said Amanda. "There's a vast difference between being a young third-grader and being a high schooler."
During a growth spurt at the age of 15, Amanda developed scoliosis; her spine began to curve, quickly shifting nearly 70 degrees. She began to experience intense hip pain and was unable to sit up straight.
Scoliosis and hip dislocation, both common to cerebral palsy, made her muscle spasms increasingly painful. Eventually, traveling in her wheelchair became difficult; each bump or jolt hurt.
"I would go so slowly over sidewalk cracks, the lip of a doorway, the elevator … the smallest thing would cause me to wince," Amanda said.
Using any part of her body tightened up her muscles and caused pain. Even holding Noah, one of the family's friendly dachshunds or trying to find a comfortable position for sleeping became impossible.
For her confirmation at St. Joan of Arc Catholic Church, Amanda chose St. Seraphina, known for her strength during a short life of pain.
"She had a palsy; she died at 15," said Amada. "I wondered how long my life was going to last. The pain at times felt like it was going to whittle me down to nothing."
• • •
Doctors she saw weren't helpful. One called her hysterical and suggested a psychiatrist. Others suggested increasing pain medication.
The scoliosis was progressing quickly and Amanda was losing the ability to sit in a chair. Her posture and hip pain would soon render her unable to be transported.
Amanda's physical therapist had read a story in the St. Petersburg Times about a pediatric orthopedic surgeon, Dr. David Siambanes, who specialized in tough scoliosis cases at St. Joseph's Children's Hospital in Tampa.
Amanda's mother made an appointment.
Siambanes, one of a few surgeons in the country trained in both reconstructive spine surgery and pediatric orthopedics, wasted no time connecting with Amanda. He noted her intelligence and wry sense of humor.
With cerebral palsy, scoliosis can progress quickly.
When the spine begins to curve to such a drastic degree, it can interfere with the ability of organs such as the heart and lungs to function properly.
"It's much more life threatening," Siambanes said. "You have to treat this aggressively when it progresses so quickly."
• • •
Between July and October 2010, Siambanes performed two surgeries, one to straighten Amanda's spine with steel rods and the other to address her hip dislocation and pain.
After the final procedure, Amanda noticed a change immediately. The pain was gone. She began to do things she hadn't done in a long time, like cuddle a pet or enjoy the sensation of laughter.
Today, Amanda sits up straight in her chair. She will never walk, but now she can see a future for herself.
Her teachers have inspired her. Maybe she'll become a teacher. She loves writing. Maybe she'll become an author.
"I feel I can face anything," Amanda said.
For her mother, after watching her daughter suffer for two years, the surgeries brought profound relief.
"It's like I can move again, too," she said.
After graduation in May, Amanda will attend Pasco-Hernando Community College. After that, she plans to attend St. Leo University.
"I will be indebted to Dr. Siambanes forever," she said. "I wish I could show him the magnitude of good that he's done."
Shary Lyssy Marshall can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.