When she takes center stage, Chloe Mershimer is standing a little taller these days. Six months ago, the 15-year-old dancer and cheerleader from New Middletown had a spinal fusion to correct scoliosis or curvature of the spine.
Now after making a full recovery, she’s 1 ¼ inches taller and able to fully resume the activities she loves.
Her speedy recovery is due in part to a new process at Akron Children’s that incorporates best practices for scoliosis surgery and enhanced care coordination – from the time surgery is scheduled through the hospital stay and follow-up care after discharge.
“In the past, the average length of stay after a spinal fusion was about 6 days,” said Dr. Todd Ritzman, Chloe’s pediatric orthopedic surgeon who developed this new process. “Over the last year that we’ve implemented our scoliosis surgery pathway, we’ve reduced the average hospital stay to 3 days.”
Chloe was first diagnosed with scoliosis in the 4th grade, but the curvature was slight and only required monitoring by her pediatrician. However, after a large growth spurt, it worsened to the point that something had to be done.
Her parents, Betsy and Rick, took her to a local orthotic clinic that provides braces for treating scoliosis, but Chloe was told her curvature was too severe for bracing and referred her to Akron Children’s for surgery.
The Mershimers turned to family friend and now retired Akron Children’s neonatologist, Dr. Elena Rossi, who recommended Chloe see Dr. Ritzman.
Betsy and Rick first met Dr. Rossi when she cared for their infant daughter, Paige, in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit at St. Elizabeth Medical Center. A close bond formed between the Mershimers and Dr. Rossi, and after Paige passed away, they continued to stay in touch.
“When I was pregnant with Chloe, we scheduled my C-section so both my OB-GYN and Dr. Rossi could be there,” Betsy said. “Chloe’s middle name is Elena after Dr. Rossi.”
After finding out she needed scoliosis surgery, Chloe was devastated. With a busy schedule of cheerleading and dance, she knew she was going to miss something during her 6-month long recovery.
“I scheduled my surgery for January, so I could still perform in the Camping World Bowl half-time show in Orlando and participate in a parade at Universal Studios,” said Chloe. “But that meant I missed my dance recital in June.”
Her recovery from surgery went just as planned. In the hospital, she had a long-acting spinal analgesic and a patient-controlled analgesia pump that allowed her to get a dose of pain medication as she needed it, which kept her comfortable. On the evening of her surgery, nurses helped her sit up and dangle her legs off the side of the bed. The morning after surgery, physical therapists helped her walk around the hospital unit.
“Before she went home on the third day, the physical therapist made sure she could go up and down stairs,” said Betsy.
“Along with reducing patient’s pain and nausea, we’ve expedited mobility and recovery after surgery,” said Dr. Ritzman. “In the first full year of implementation, none of our patients required intensive care transfers or readmission to the hospital. We’ve also dramatically reduced the need for blood transfusions.”
A week after she was home, Chloe started to get bored and decided she was ready to resume her schoolwork.
“Her teachers at Cardinal Mooney High School were wonderful and sent assignments home as she was ready, so she was able to keep her grades up,” Betsy said. “When she returned to school, her friends met us to carry her books since she wasn’t allowed to carry more than 8 pounds, the equivalent of a gallon of milk.”
Three months after surgery, she could ease into activities with some restrictions, such as no jumping or tumbling.
Now 6 months out, the Mershimers and Dr. Ritzman are thrilled with the results. Her spine is straight and she’s able to dance and cheer with no restrictions.
Chloe is looking forward to riding her favorite roller coaster, Millennium Force, at Cedar Point amusement park. Later this summer, she’ll be attending a workshop in New York City that provides training in Broadway acting, dance and voice. The Beginnings workshop is taught by industry professionals, and focuses on realistic career options, healthy nutritional and lifestyle habits, and positive self-worth. It’s a wonderful opportunity as she gets back to the active lifestyle she missed.
“My niece had scoliosis surgery about 7 years ago, so having someone Chloe could talk to was a huge help,” said Rick. “She was worried she would never be able to do all the things she loves.”
Chloe also appreciated that Dr. Ritzman did a thorough job of explaining the surgery to her.
“He talked directly to her and at a level she understood,” said Betsy. “She brought her own list of questions to the appointments, which covered the same questions we had.”
Chloe did a lot of research on her own, even choosing scoliosis as the topic of a school assignment.
While having surgery might have slowed her down a bit, there’s no stopping her now.
She’s developed an interest in medicine, particularly pediatric surgery, and hopes to go to medical school one day. Now a sophomore, she’ll be preparing for college visits soon.
“I would love to go to Notre Dame or maybe Harvard,” she said. “That would be amazing.”