Junior overcomes dancing accident, bone transplant

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Christi Norris

Junior Christy Neal takes a high step on the arena side of the high school. A dancing accident changed the course of Neal's life and led to a transplant. “She has worked very hard to be where she is now. She had to go through months of no walking and then physical therapy and now to begin normal activities," Christy's mom, Shelley Neal, said. "Although she still has some issues out of her ankle, she is still working daily to regain full strength, movement, flexibility, and eventually get back into her dance."

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Junior Christy Neal had an accident that changed the course of her life. Two years ago, Christy injured her ankle after a dancing accident during practice. With rapid swelling and discoloration, she was rushed to the hospital and was diagnosed with an extreme case of an ankle sprain. But, Christy suspected that initial, incomplete diagnosis right after she received it. Even if she did not suspect, she would soon be waiting for a transplant.

“Christy handled it all quite well. She was very resilient, and the way she handled every step was amazing,” Shelley Neal, Christy’s mother said. “Her maturity and strength grew with each step of the process.”

She continued to have difficulty in her physical education class when she was released back to school. Because of this, Christy went back to the doctor. Christy was then diagnosed with osteochondritis, which doesn’t show up on X-Rays. The hospital then performed an MRI scan and proposed a surgery, which would drill three holes into her bones to promote blood flow.

“There was still something off about my foot,” Christy said. “I always knew it. I could feel it, but I just couldn’t pinpoint it.”

Christy’s life returned to normal as she started her physical therapy. The doctors reported that everything was improving, yet they ordered one more MRI – one that indicated a problem still existed – one that could have led to amputation.

“They found out that it had not been fixed because of the amount of walking that I had done,” Christy said. “They were wrong. Of course, I did a bunch of ‘I told you so’s.’”

Christy decided to transfer to a different hospital in North Carolina to continue her treatment.

“I was sent to Duke Hospital,” Christy said. “They were one of the few hospitals that had a standing CT scanner to get a full picture of what was happening with my ankle.”

During Christy’s appointment, Dr. Mark Easly, a foot-and-ankle orthopedic surgeon, informed her that she needed a bone transplant. This meant Neal would need to have a donor that’s the same age and size as she was.

“We were very surprised that she needed a transplant. We did not know it was even possible for a bone. We were told by the doctor that it could take two years before a donor would be located,” Mrs. Neal said. “We were very blessed to have one in only a couple of weeks. The doctor was surprised such a good match was found so quickly. The only thing is that it meant someone else’s teen about the same age as ours had lost their life. It’s a very sobering process.”

“Even the doctor interviewed me because of how rare the case was so that they would be able to show other patients to give them hope.”

— Christy Neal

After her transplant, Christy stayed overnight at the hospital and received many instructions on what she could not do with her leg.

“A couple of months after the surgery,” Chrisy said, “I couldn’t touch my leg to anything, even the floor.”

For the entirety of the summer that Christy recovered, she worked on being able to walk without a limp. During that time, Dr. Easly interviewed her about her case so she could inspire others about her gratitude and dedication.

“She has worked very hard to be where she is now. She had to go through months of no walking and then physical therapy and now to begin normal activities,” Mrs. Neal said. “Although she still has some issues out of her ankle, she is still working daily to regain full strength, movement, flexibility, and eventually get back into her dance.”

Even Christy’s friend, Matilyn Welch, decided to shine some light on the recovery process, offering some humor to lighten the mood.

“We all thought it was just a broken ankle, but then it got worse. Her recovery was long and hard. But as a friend, it was entertaining to watch her crawl up the stairs.” Welch said. “Christy did everything the doctor said, and she is almost healed completely. There is still a chance something may go wrong, but let’s not think about that. She is a very strong you lady, and I’m glad to have her in my life.”