Marysville News

Marysville High School cheerleader a miracle in motion

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When Marysville Monarch fans watch the cheerleaders tumble at high school basketball games, one cheerleader in particular is performing nothing short of a miracle.

Morgan Watkins, 17, does what other cheerleaders do: She shouts, she dances, she tumbles. But Watkins doesn't just tumble. She does back handsprings.

And she does them with steel rods in her back.

She is now a junior, but this is her first year back on the squad since she had to stop cheering in the eighth grade after her doctors decided they needed to do something drastic to alleviate her scoliosis, or curvature of the spine.

Dr. Jan Klamar with Nationwide Children's Hospital in Columbus performed the surgery in 2010.

Lisa Watkins, Morgan's mother, said the family wanted to delay surgery until that summer but the doctor said, "No, you can't. It's getting worse daily."

In fact, she said, her daughter's spine bent 20 degrees in one month.

Scoliosis is a sideways curvature of the spine that develops just before puberty. The condition is present in three out of every 100 people, according to the website kidshealth.org. But Watkins' case was pronounced and she was extremely self-conscious.

The surgery was difficult due to her age and her small frame but also because she had to have what amounted to two operations done at once.

The first involved removing discs and growth plates from several vertebrae by going through the side of her chest. That part of the surgery lasted four hours.

The doctors then repositioned her and made an incision down her back, moving muscle out of the way. Then they put a series of instruments in her back to help straighten her spine.

The nine-hour surgery left Watkins two inches taller.

She said her recovery was painful, but it was worth it.

"I know if I didn't (have the surgery), I would probably be in a wheel chair. After puberty, it would have been really bad, like I wouldn't be able to walk straight," she said.

She had a setback about a month ago.

"Her back was hurting her," her mother said. "He (the doctor) did an X-ray and he thought that the bottom part of her spine would straighten on its own but it hasn't. It is still buckled there but it hasn't gotten any worse."

Last week, the doctor cleared her again and said he would see her in a year.

Watching her daughter tumble makes Lisa nervous but for Morgan, it is just what cheerleaders do.

"I was way stronger before I had the surgery but it's getting better," she said.

The rods in her spine will stay there permanently. The experienced has helped her focus on what she wants to do after high school.

"I'm going to try to be a nurse and work with little babies," Watkins said. "When I was in Children's Hospital, I loved how nice the nurses were and I just thought it would be so fun to work with kids and help them through all that stuff."

But for now, she's looking forward to the rest of high school.

"I'm gonna cheer next year," she promised.

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