Teen with Spina Bifida Benefits from Advanced Hip Surgery

“I was told that what’s going to happen is going to happen, and there’s no point in trying to prevent anything.”

Amanda Geier said this was the medical advice she received regarding her daughter Samantha, who has spina bifida. After hearing the medical opinion, Geier took on a different attitude than what had been suggested. She says, “You learn to fight for your kid to be able to do things she wants to do.”

Samantha Geier has a condition known as spina bifida, which happens when the spinal cord or the vertebrae surrounding it do not correctly or completely form, which results in damaged nerves and muscle weakness. Samantha received her first operation when she was just six weeks old at the Rady Children’s Hospital in San Diego. Now she is 16 years old and has had a number of surgeries.

Earlier in Samantha’s life, she wasn’t extremely hindered by the spina bifida, but as she got older the scar tissue on her spinal cord began to cause problems, and so she had another surgery. After this procedure she lost some muscle function, which forced her to give up many activities, such as dance and soccer.

She then picked up a sport that wasn’t as hard on her muscles—swimming. This sport was ideal because it was not weight-bearing. She began competing and excelling at the long distance freestyle and backstroke events, and later on she participated in the Paralympics. Unfortunately, her spina bifida began to interfere once again; her hip began to unexpectedly pop out of its socket, causing immense pain. Her hip muscles were too weak to hold the joints in place. Samantha says, “I didn’t know when it would happen. It could happen in bed.”

Once again, Samantha was left with no choice but to have more surgery. Harish Hosalkar, M.D., a pediatric orthopedic surgeon, who also directs the Hip Research Center at Rady Children’s Hospital, decided it would be best to perform a challenging muscle transfer procedure on Samantha.

For the Geiers, Dr. Hosalkar seemed to be the perfect surgeon for the family. Amanda Geier says, “He’s realistic, and he tells you what can and cannot happen. He explains there’s no guarantee.”

Dr. Hosalkar said, “We all understood it was a difficult procedure, but I told them, if nothing else, I could stop the pain.”

The surgery took place in the summer of 2011; all went well and Samantha is now pain-free and able to be back in the pool. Her hip has not popped out of place since the muscle transfer, and she hopes to one day compete again in her chosen sport of swimming.

Not only does Samantha swim, she is an excellent student, sings in the choir, and tutors others. Yes, her spina bifida is sometimes an inconvenience, but she says, “I need to plan ahead and allow more time to get things done. I have to factor in time to put on my leg braces and check out wheelchair access. I try to figure out the fastest, most productive way to get where I want to be.”

One place Samantha would really like to be in the future is college. This exciting experience will present new challenges for her, like being away from home and her parents’ assistance. As of now, she hasn’t let spina bifida stop her from achieving her goals, and she doesn’t plan to!