Searching for a specialist

Christina and Chris Ewing knew early on that something was wrong with their daughter, Abby. Smaller than other children her age, Abby began to have trouble crawling and trying to walk around ages 18 to 20 months. By the time her daughter was 3 years old, Christina, who lives in Evans, Ga., had to remove her from ballet and gymnastics because she could not keep up with other children.

“She always kind of walked with a waddle,” Christina said. “Our pediatrician kept assuring us that everything was fine.”

On a trip to the zoo, a then 6-year-old Abby began to stop walking and squat. Looking for answers, Christina took her daughter to a new pediatrician, who, with a physical exam, finally provided an explanation: hip dysplasia.

“I knew nothing about hip dysplasia, so I was terrified,” she said. “Being a nurse, I started doing tons of research.”

Hip dysplasia is a condition in which the hip socket may be too shallow to hold the ball of the thigh bone. This causes the ball to slip in and out of the socket, which can lead to hip pain and difficulty walking. About one in 1,000 babies are born with the condition. In Abby’s case, the ball remained out of the socket.

Following the diagnosis, Abby saw two pediatric orthopaedic surgeons who told Christina her daughter was too old for surgery and nothing could be done. As Abby grew, her condition worsened. She began to have issues with headaches and fatigue, and one day fell in the shower.

Once again, Christina took Abby to a specialist.

“He said to invest in a wheelchair,” Christina said. “I just wouldn’t take no for an answer.”

Christina began searching for a specialist who could offer some sort of treatment for Abby. Her search led her to a New York surgeon. This doctor referred her to another surgeon in Boston, who sent Abby to Tim Schrader, M.D., Medical Director of the Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta Hip Program.

Dr. Schrader finally gave Christina and Chris the hope they had been seeking for years. 

“He was the first one who even suggested it could be repaired,” Christina said. “It was a relief to finally find someone who would listen. He said he would help her, but we had to do it right away.”

Dr. Schrader suggested surgery in both hips to correct the dysplasia, which would require several months of recovery and follow-up treatment. Because this type of surgery is most effective in younger children, there was no guarantee it would work.

“Abby was older than the typical candidate for this type of surgery, but I felt she could still benefit,” Dr. Schrader said. “While there were no guarantees, there was a real chance to greatly improve her quality of life.”

Christina and Chris agonized over the decision, but ultimately felt surgery was best for their daughter.

“We didn’t want to see her in a wheelchair if there was a chance she could walk,” Christina said.

Abby had surgery to correct her right hip in September 2009 and had her left hip operation in December. Each operation required Abby to spend months in a special cast followed by physical therapy. Christina home-schooled Abby so she could recover without the stress of attending school.

“She was determined to walk again,” Christina said. “She would do everything the therapists asked her to do. She really wanted to get back to school.”

Now 9 years old, she has returned to school, and is walking and taking aquatic therapy to improve her flexibility and muscle tone.