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news News Wednesday, September 23, 2020 Wednesday, September 23, 2020 12:51 PM - Wednesday, September 23, 2020 12:51 PM

Hello, Ms. Hollywood

Limb-lengthening surgery the latest step for 3-year-old aspiring ballerina

Hello, Ms. Hollywood

Camille steps into Shriners Hospitals for Children — St. Louis on the first cooler day leading into fall with her mom, Shantay, in tow.

Ms. Hollywood has arrived.

The 3-year-old Evansville, Indiana, girl recently underwent the first of what will be three limb-lengthening procedures before she hits her teen years.

“When she walks into a room, she doesn’t have to say anything because she just has this presence about her,” Shantay said. “They like to call her ‘Ms. Hollywood’ here because she’ll walk in with these shades on and just sort of announce, ‘I’m here!’” 

That Camille is able to walk in powered by her own two legs is a testament to the Shriners Hospital physicians, nurses and rehabilitation therapists who have cared for the girl since she was an infant.

Camille’s dad, Bryan, said the birth of his daughter was a shock. “(Her leg) looked as though it did not have bone. I was numb,” he said. “I couldn’t move. They had to grab me.”

Within hours, doctors in Evansville told Bryan that Shriners Hospital could help. Three weeks later, Camille was seen at Shriners Hospitals for Children — St. Louis by Perry Schoenecker, M.D., who treated her first for hip dysplasia.

“There was a thought that they might have to amputate her leg,” Shantay said. “But Dr. Schoenecker had a wait-and-see approach.”

When she was 1, Camille received a lift for her left foot.

“She just took off and we knew nothing was going to stop her,” Shantay said while holding Camille, who looked up from the movie she was watching – Trolls World Tour – and added, “I was crushing it.”

“Yes, baby. You were crushing it,” Shantay laughed.

But the following two years have been anything but easy for Camille. She was diagnosed with tibial hemimelia, a limb-length discrepancy. This rare condition affects the larger bone in the lower leg, and sometimes, as in Camille’s case, the patient might have extra toes.

Camille had her first limb-lengthening procedure on her left leg July 7. As of mid-September, the leg had grown an extra inch. She now sports a frame around her lower leg, but that large apparatus was not what had Camille concerned when she awoke from surgery. It was the absence of her extra toe, which had been removed during the procedure.

“I was like, ‘Kid, you’ve got this big thing on your leg and you’re worried about where your toe is at?’” Shantay laughed.

Camille does physical therapy three times a week in Evansville with coordination from the Shriners Hospitals medical team. She will have two more lengthening procedures, one when she is 7 and the other when she is 12. By the time she is healed from the final surgery, her leg will have grown an extra 6 inches from where it would have been if nothing had been done.

“That’s a long way from amputation,” Shantay said.

Camille wants to use her new-found stabilization to become a gymnast or a ballerina. At the mention of the latter word, she stood up on the exam table and executed a perfect-for-a-3-year-old ballet move, a plié.

After three-plus years of continuous doctor appointments with her daughter, Shantay and Bryan are starting to allow themselves to look into the future and see a limitless life for Camille. “I sit there and wonder what her life is going to be like,” she said. “I really want to see her going to prom wearing high heels on her own two feet. That’s the moment I’m most looking forward to.”

And both mom and dad know that moment wouldn’t be possible without the Shriners Hospitals team. “Everyone (at Shriners Hospitals) is truly genuine. From day one, they have truly shown they cared about my child,” Bryan said.

Shantay looks down at Camille, snuggled in her lap, and strokes her hair. “It felt like a family from the moment we walked through the door.”