Shriner’s care impacted local writer’s life

There are moments in life when things come full circle. Something magical happens that brings you back to a special place — physically or emotionally.

You remember the sights, sounds and even the feel of that moment or place. All of the reasons why it was so special come flooding back. At that point, you realize just how far you’ve come.

I was 4 years old when I had major surgery on one of my legs at Shriner’s Hospital for Children in Erie, Pennsylvania. The goal of the surgery was to release tightness in my hamstrings due to my cerebral palsy and allow me to bend easier.

The tightness slowly became a factor in my other leg as well, which led me to have the same procedure six years later. I wore braces on my legs years before and after surgery to strengthen my muscles. They were a temporary solution and made my legs stronger. However, they left huge blisters on my feet as I grew.

I had to wear heavy socks over my braces. My skin wasn’t conditioned to that kind of roughness, but eventually it didn’t hurt when I wore the braces. The model and manufacturing for them improved as well, so that was a big help.

It seemed as if everything moved slower during all of this. I just wanted the pain to stop because I’d never experienced anything like it before — at least not until I got older. Even so, the time in between those surgeries was intense — between recovery and long, grueling physical therapy sessions on site at Shriner’s and home. The pain was so bad at night that I’d wake from a dead sleep, screaming and I was drenched in my own sweat. I had to wear a double cast following both surgeries.

I often say that my love of writing was the starting point for my journey in life — where things began to make sense. But my story wouldn’t be what it is today without the doctors and medical staff at Shriner’s Hospital.

Their constant care, compassion and incredible willingness to make things fun, made my long hospital stays comfortable; even enjoyable. I remember the room at physical therapy being so bright and decorative that I forgot I was actually doing therapy. The staff let me play with silly putty and shaving cream to strengthen my arms and hands as I worked on standing on my own two feet.

I could just be a kid while I was at Shriner’s. That was one of the most important things in my life at that point. My brain was on autopilot trying to figure out how to deal with my cerebral palsy. It was a huge relief to not have to think about that, even if it was only temporary.

There were times when I had to stay there for months. I would cry when I went home because my time at Shriner’s was so much fun. I was allowed to forget about my pain and the heaviness that came with it. … It was a magical feeling.

My time as a patient at Shriner’s, on many occasions, lasted until I turned 21. I was featured in two pictures in their 75th anniversary book. The care that I received impacted my life to the point where I know I’m the best I can be. I can now live life the way it was intended for me to live. That’s more than I could have ever asked for. As Shriner’s celebrates its next anniversary, I say thank you from the bottom of my heart.

Erin Kelly, 34, was born with cerebral palsy in Korea, and lives in Altoona. In addition to this column, she writes for online publications The Huffington Post, The Good Men Project, Upworthy, and Real Talk Magazine. Email her at WriterWheels28@gmail.com.