It was her junior year of high school and Abigail Evans’ life was full and active. She enjoyed playing clarinet in her school’s marching band, was a member of several organizations, and was looking forward to attending the prom in the spring of 2021.
However, in December 2020 a visit to the eye doctor led to unexpected spinal cord surgery.
“Abbi had been having headaches, so we went to the eye doctor to have her eyes checked,” said her mom Christy Evans. “They were concerned about something they saw during the eye exam and referred us to an eye specialist and that later led to us seeing a pediatric neurologist.”
Ultimately, an MRI showed Abbi had three brain tumors and a second MRI showed a spinal cord tumor. She was diagnosed with Neurofibromatosis Type 2, a genetic condition that causes noncancerous tumors to grow on a patient’s nerves. It was determined that specialists would monitor the brain tumors for future growth, but it was necessary to have the spinal cord tumor removed immediately before it caused damage to the nerves in her spine.
In February 2021, the family traveled from their home in Corpus Christi to Houston for the surgery. The surgery was completed at Children’s Memorial Hermann Hospital and she recovered there for a week before transferring to TIRR Memorial Hermann’s pediatric unit for rehabilitation.
“When Abbi first arrived at TIRR Memorial Hermann, she had mild weakness in her legs, patchy sensation in her legs, painful numbness and tingling in her legs, and difficulty with maintaining her blood pressure when sitting and standing because of her spinal cord injury from her tumor,” said Dr. Stacey Hall, clinical assistant professor of pediatric rehabilitation medicine at The University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston (UTHealth) and TIRR Memorial Hermann pediatric Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation physician. “We had to tweak some of her medications, her fluid intake, and had her wear special socks to help her. Once we were able to optimize her medically, she thrived in her therapies.”
Abbi had daily occupational and physical therapy at TIRR Memorial Hermann as part of her rehabilitation program.
“Abbi brought her clarinet, which was great because we incorporated that into her therapy,” said her occupational therapist Taylor Kozell. “She was able to practice cleaning and putting together her instrument, which allowed us to work on the arm and hand weakness she was experiencing. We also did aquatic therapy to work on the weakness she had in her left leg. She felt safe there because even if she fell, she would only get splashed!”
In addition to getting back to playing her clarinet, Abbi also had a goal of attending her prom.
“During her initial evaluation, I learned she played the clarinet in marching band,” said her physical therapist Michelle Sauer. “She also told me she wanted to be able to dance at prom and return to her bed room on the second floor of her house. I utilized a body weight support treadmill during some of our sessions. Abbi also practiced ambulating while playing a variety of musical instruments. During one of her PT sessions, Abbi shared with me that one of her friends had asked her to prom and that she had selected a dress!”
After six weeks, Abbi walked out of TIRR Memorial Hermann unassisted just in time to attend her prom. TIRR Memorial Hermann’s Child Life specialist, Victoria Pennington, facilitated her return to school and met with the school’s administration to assure that Abbi had everything she would need for a successful remainder of the school year.
“Having Victoria make that presentation to Abbi’s school administration and teachers helped us so much,” said Christy. “She made sure the restrooms that Abbi could use were accessible and that Abbi had ample time between classes. It was nice because these requests didn’t have to come from me – they came from medical professionals on Abbi’s behalf.”
Christy believes that the entire TIRR Memorial Hermann team were instrumental in Abbi’s success.
“In addition to the PTs and OTs, Abbi could not have done so well in recovery without her music therapists, recreational therapists, chaplains, our neuropsychologist, the encouraging nurses, housekeepers, food service people and front desk workers rooting her on,” said Christy. “These people were essential to her whole wellbeing.”
Today, Abbi is preparing for her senior year of high school and beyond.
“I was always interested in the medical field and now even more so,” said Abbi. “Right now I am thinking about a career in Biomedical Science.”
“Abbi exceeded my expectations in every way,” said Dr. Hall. “She is a brilliant and resilient young woman and such a hard worker. She walked out of our inpatient unit without needing an assistive device, which is remarkable and a testament to her work ethic. She also was able to attend her prom in a gorgeous dress and dance with her date!”
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