Cheering Angel Inspires Her Doctors
"I've been wanting to cheer since I was really little," said Angel. "But I didn't think I would be able to." However, her hard work in tryouts quickly convinced coach Stacy Morell that Angel belonged on the team.
"She was really smiley and she kept up even though she was only doing the upper half of the routine," Morell said. "I thought that was harder, since she had to mirror everyone's arms when they turned around."
Angel was born with spina bifida, a congenital defect in which the lower part of the spine does not form correctly. Her legs have been paralyzed since birth and she needed spinal surgery at Lucile Packard Children's Hospital while still a newborn. Since then, she has had more than a dozen trips to the operating room and has consulted caregivers from Packard Children's neurosurgery, urology, gastroenterology and complex care teams, who work together to help Angel lead an active life.
At the center of that effort is pediatric physician assistant Doriel Pearson in the complex primary care clinic, who monitors Angel's overall well-being and ensures coordination of Angel's care. Seeing Angel try cheerleading pleased Pearson immensely. "I was thrilled about the whole idea," Pearson said. "Looking at the whole child — not what's wrong, but what's right — is what keeps me working with these children."
Angel's biggest medical challenge came last summer: Orthopedic surgeon Larry Rinsky, MD, straightened a 75-degree curve in Angel's spine from scoliosis, a common complication of spina bifida. The curve forced Angel to sit awkwardly, always leaning sharply to the left.
The surgery was "gigantic," Rinsky said, requiring seven hours in the operating room and two weeks' recovery in the hospital. But it was worthwhile. Now Angel can sit up straight, use both arms, and, best of all, cheer.
"The team put me in pyramids and all the dances and cheers," Angel said. "I'm basically doing everything except the stunts."
"Everyone has a lot of respect for her for attempting such a challenging sport," coach Morell added. "And she's really excelling at it."
It's not just her fellow cheerleaders who are amazed by Angel.
"I would never have thought she would become a cheerleader," said surgeon Rinsky. "She's inspiring to her doctors. It's awesome."