One Teenager Refuses to Give in to Cancer’s Demands
Advocacy For Gabi Shull, the procedure necessitated by her bout with cancer created a new set of challenges unlike those faced by most amputees.
We sat down with Gabi Shull, a 9-year-old who underwent cancer-inducted rotationplasty—a procedure in which a portion of a limb is removed and the remaining portion below the removal is rotated, then reattached—and didn't let it stop her from pursuing her dreams.
Why did you have to undergo rotationplasty?
Gabi Shull: I was diagnosed with bone cancer in my knee when I was nine-years-old—called osteosarcoma. I only had three options for surgery.
One was to try to save my leg, but I would not be able to do any type of pounding activities (even swimming was iffy) and I would've had to have constant physical therapy and follow up surgeries. There were also several problems associated with this specific surgery.
The second option was an above the knee amputation, but that had problems of its own: chronic pain throughout my life, limited mobility and other problems too, so rotationplasty was the best choice for me. It may look a little funny, but I can do anything I want to do and I don't have any limitations.
How did you prepare yourself for this surgery?
We did a lot of research and watched an informative video of the procedure and also many videos of kids who had the procedure doing active things. We were even able to meet a few kids who had the surgery in person, so we were able to see exactly what it would look like. All of these things influenced my decision of having the rotationplasty surgery.
“Before dancing, I had to learn to walk and what motivated me to walk again was the thought of dancing on stage.”
What was the most challenging part of adjusting to your new knee?
I think it is the actual process of adjusting to the new knee that is most challenging. First, I had to work on range of motion with my ankle because it was frozen at 90 degrees for many months, both before and after the surgery from being in a cast.
After I could move my ankle, I had to learn to bear weight on my leg because that would aid in my bones fusing together. After I was able to bear a little bit of weight on my foot, I had to adjust to many different prosthetics as my range of motion in my ankle improved. Finally I was ready to start learning to walk again. It took a long time, about a year, for all of that to take place. It wasn't a quick process.
Tell us about the first time you danced after your surgery?
My first time being back on stage, I was surrounded by all of my friends as we danced together. It was a ballet routine and in the beginning I was in my wheel chair doing the same arm motions that the group was doing behind me.
Through the dance, they pushed me in my wheel chair as I still did the arm motions. Then I went off stage and put my leg on and came back on stage. At the end of the dance I stood from my chair and walked to the front of the stage holding hands with all of my friends. It felt great going back to doing what I love.
How have you been able to dance again?
Well, I was able to dance again through hard work and determination. Before dancing, I had to learn to walk and what motivated me to walk again was the thought of dancing on stage. I am now able to do tap, jazz, ballet, lyrical, contemporary, hip-hop and, because of my prosthetist, am learning to dance en pointe. There are times when I might have to modify the choreography so that I can execute the moves to look like the rest of my class.
A lot of people have seen your video on social media outlets and have been inspired—what is the key message you hopes viewers take away from your story?
I hope viewers take away the fact that you can do anything you set your mind to and if something is challenging, don't give up. Even though my dancing has changed, my passion for it remains the same.