Courageous Hannah

Fourth grader battles spinal bifida with determination

Pete ReardonSeptember 26, 2012 

As you gaze along the sidelines at a Minarets High School or Minarets Youth football game, you can't help but notice Hannah Lewis, the cheerleader with the infectious smile. You will also notice that she occupies a wheelchair, occasionally standing to her feet to cheer with the other girls.

Lewis is the middle child of John and Lisa Carrington and a member of the Minarets Youth Football Peewee Cheer Squad. She caught my eye the first time I saw her and not for the obvious reasons -- Hannah is one of those few people that can light up a room when she enters, she brings a smile to your face. She is full of energy and possesses a very special spirit.

She is currently a fourth grader at Rivergold Elementary School in Coarsegold. She has the same hopes and dreams as every 9-year-old girl, enjoying many of the same hobbies. She loves to sing and dance, and someday hopes to be an actress or singer, and yes, she loves the show "Glee." But unlike the wheelchair-bound actor on "Glee," Hannah was born with Spinal Bifida.

Spinal Bifida is a developmental congenital disorder caused by the failure of the embryonic neural tube to close during the first month of embryonic development, often before the mother knows she is pregnant. Vertebrae overlying the spinal cord are not fully formed and remain unfused and open. Complications of spinal bifida range from minor physical problems to severe physical disabilities.

There is no cure and treatment depends on the type and severity of the disorder. Generally children with a mild form need no treatment, although some require surgery as they grow. Some children may need subsequent surgeries to manage problems with the feet, hips, or spine. Some children require leg braces, crutches or wheelchairs.

Unfortunately, Hannah is one of those that require surgery. As she grows she must have procedures to help her legs and feet function normally. She recently underwent her fifth surgical procedure Sept. 18 at Children's Hospital of Central California. She has had three procedures performed on her spine, one on her left foot and this most recent one on her right foot.

In the latest procedure she had her foot broken along with all her toes. A six-inch incision above her ankle was needed to release her Achilles tendon. The procedure is needed to make Hannah's foot flat and hopefully following surgery she will be able to walk with the aid of braces on both feet.

There will be more surgeries -- By the age of 12, Hannah will have an inch difference in the length of her legs. She will eventually have a rod attached to her hip to aid as a leg extension, bringing both legs to the same length.

With each growth spurt, Hannah may require additional procedures. Before her last surgery, Hannah was able to walk and that's when she decided to try out for the cheer squad. Since then her condition has worsened and she has needed the assistance of the wheelchair.

" I wanted to show that when you're in a wheelchair you can still do stuff, but it's been a lot of work," Hannah said.

"It's really hard on her body," added her mother. "She used to be able to do things and now she is having to deal with her limitations."

Her parents moved from Michigan two years ago to be closer to John's parents in Yosemite Lakes Park. John is a defensive coach on the Minaret Mustangs Juniors football team, while her older brother Hayden, plays on the squad.

Lisa has been overwhelmed by the community support Hannah and her family have been shown. While living in Michigan Hannah struggled with bullying and kids not understanding her ailment. She has not experienced any of that while attending Rivergold Elementary.

Hannah's surgeries have caused her to miss a lot of school. She is hopes to be back at school after the October break, back in uniform and cheering from the sidelines in time for her brother's playoff games.

"The tough part is not knowing what is next ... it teaches you to prepare for everything," Lisa said. She asked that everyone keep Hannah in their prayers as she recovers and undergoes physical therapy in the weeks following surgery.

As far as Hannah's short term goals, while she may be laid up for a bit recovering, she'll be practicing the National Anthem from her bed in hopes of singing it before a Mustangs youth or high school game. She is also looking to become the second girl in a wheelchair to sing on "Glee." While she is forced to deal with her physical limitations, this young ladies spirit has no boundaries.

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