Gracie Rasmussen is a 13-year-old athlete who loves the sport of cheerleading. Her dream had always been to compete for Cheer Athletics, a nationally renowned cheerleading powerhouse. She worked hard to make the team, spending hours in the gym each day perfecting every tumble, dance move and stunt. Like most of the girls, she had to ice down parts of her body that would ache after practice. For Gracie, it was her back that hurt the most, a pain easy to dismiss after watching the cheerleaders tumble, jump, stretch and flip over and over again.
It was actually a weekend off from cheerleading, spent on the lake with her family that brought her a diagnosis of scoliosis. Gracie and her sister, Sawyer, were riding an inner-tube being pulled by a boat on the lake, when they both fell off and jarred their backs. An X-ray on Gracie’s back confirmed much more than bruising: it illuminated a severe case of scoliosis that was bending Gracie’s spine at a 65-degree angle.
“I was just so impressed with Dr. Lieberman,” said Lynn Rasmussen, Gracie’s mom. “He spoke directly to her. He looked her in the eye and told her exactly what was going on. He worked her in and within two weeks, she was having surgery.”
“Gracie’s eight-hour surgery was an instrumentation correction fusion for idiopathic scoliosis – essentially, we realigned her spine and locked everything where it needed to be by using computer-navigated robotic assistance for the placement of the hardware,” noted Dr. Lieberman. “We use tools like this to achieve the best accuracy, effectiveness and efficiency we can for patients who need a procedure like this.”
Cheerleaders are known for their positive attitudes and strong spirits. But it was faith, Gracie says, that pulled her through: “I was really nervous about the surgery, but I knew that I needed it. I had just made Cheer Athletics team – it was my dream to go there. I just prayed about it.” A strong Christian faith and friends at her church, Prestonwood North Baptist Church, Gracie said, helped her through surgery and recovery. She spent eight days in the hospital at Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital Plano and continues physical therapy at home.
Almost a year post-surgery, it was mom Lynn who was the most nervous as her daughter prepared to do her first back flip on the mat at the gym where Gracie practices.
“I couldn’t believe it when she did it,” she recalled. “I was jumping up and down and saying, ‘Gracie, you did it! You did it! And she looked at me and rolled her eyes and said, ‘Mom, I’ve done this, like, a thousand times before.’ But I was thinking, ‘Yes, but you got it back!’ Nothing prepares you for watching your child relearn everything they knew, from lifting their head to walking to tumbling.”
Gracie’s passion for cheering pushed her to work hard through her recovery to continue the sport she loves so much. Her coaches credit her strong work ethic and muscle memory for allowing her to get back onto the mat so quickly post-surgery.
“Tumbling is a lot easier now,” notes Gracie, when talking about her recovery and her return to her sport. “It’s straighter and it’s easier.” Gracie never knew that it was a curve in her spine that was causing her to veer off to the side during tumbling passes, something she had struggled to control. Even just months after her surgery, she felt that her back was stronger and that things were coming easier than they did before.
“Gracie is an athlete,” said Dr. Lieberman. “While we want the best outcome we can for all patients, we know that flexibility is particularly important for these young men and women.”
Gracie, who loves English and writing, is looking forward to writing the ending to this chapter in her life, which she hopes includes a spot on her high school cheerleading squad. One day, she wants to help others by going into the field of physical therapy or sports medicine, and she is excited to share her story with other patients who may be going through a similar experience with a diagnosis of scoliosis.
Her advice for them?
“Just trust the doctors and know that you will be stronger than you ever were.”
Spoken like a true cheerleader.