In the world of competitive dance, every movement is crucial. For Kiara “Katie” Rodriguez, her dance journey took an unexpected turn when, at the age of 15, when she began experiencing hip pain.

What felt like a pulled muscle led her to Nemours Children’s Health, Celebration, where she met with her pediatrician, Dr. Janette Magarino. “We all agreed it might be a pulled muscle,” says Katie. “So, we were told to rest and ice the area and take an anti-inflammatory. However, being the type to not complain, I would just dance through the pain.” As a dedicated dancer, Katie spends five hours a day, six days a week perfecting her craft. As she continued to dance, the pain got worse. “When I was home, the pain was unbearable and at times would leave me screaming or crying,” says Katie. “I couldn’t deal with the pain so I often would lose sleep.”

Eventually, Katie told Dr. Magarino that her hip felt out of place and this time, she was concerned that Katie might have a torn cartlidge, or even hip dysplasia. So, Dr. Magarino referred Katie to the orthopedics team at Nemours Children’s Hospital, Florida. “I remember thinking to myself that only babies are diagnosed with hip dysplasia,” says Katie. “Boy, was I wrong. But, having national competitions in the upcoming months, I asked that my appointment be pushed back.”

Finally, after her competitions, Katie met with Dr. John Lovejoy who diagnosed her with bilateral hip dysplasia. He recommended she see orthopedic surgeon Dr. Ryan M. Ilgenfritz for a Bernese Periacetabular Osteotomy surgery to preserve and relieve stress on Katie’s hip joints.

At first, Katie considered not going through with the surgery as she didn’t want to take any time off from dance. But she has a long history with Nemours Children’s and chose to trust her orthopedics team. Katie has been a patient at Nemours since she was four days old, when she lived in Delaware. Her family was ecstatic to hear about the opening of Nemours Children’s Hospital, Florida so she could continue to receive care from the Nemours team.

Throughout her treatment and surgery process, Katie received unwavering support from her care team. “The staff at Nemours have been the most incredible individuals ever,” says Katie. “I see different specialists for different health issues and overall, my experience has been fantastic.  I can’t say enough about Dr. Ilgenfritz. Dance is my life, and he gave me my life back. My favorite thing is that they treat me like I’m part of their family. I always feel comfortable walking into the doors of Nemours.”

Following her first surgery, Katie bounced back to normal activity within months, even claiming 1st place in a dance competition. But “after 4 months, I began to experience pain again in my left hip and thought something was wrong,” says Katie. “Furthermore, my right hip began to cause me pain. Dr. Ilgenfritz reassured me that it was the screws in my hip and that it would be best to remove them and perform the PAO on my right hip as well.” Despite some initial difficulties, Katie’s recovery after her second surgery has progressed remarkably. She’s now walking without support after just 44 days. “I feel amazing, and I owe it all to Dr. Ilgenfritz and the staff at Nemours,” says Katie.

As a high school senior graduating in 2024, Katie’s dreams extend beyond the stage. She hopes to become a lawyer in the future, but for now remains unwavering in her commitment to dance. Nemours has not only given her the physical strength to pursue her passions but also empowered her to have a say in her treatment. “Because I got to express my opinions about my treatment,” says Katie, “I will be returning to dance soon. I have a piece of myself back that I thought I lost forever.”

To those facing a similar journey, Katie offers these words of advice, “There is a light at the end of this difficult and long tunnel. It does get better, and the results are worth the hard work we put into recovery.” Katie encourages others to connect with those who’ve undergone similar experiences and emphasizes the power of perseverance. “I’m living proof that it does work and that it does get better. You aren’t alone,” says Katie. With the help of Nemours, Katie has reclaimed her passion for dance.

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