Taylor Offtermatt, 15, possesses what can only be described as quiet confidence. There’s a stillness about her. Like nothing fazes her.
Maybe that’s just how she is naturally, but the fact that she spends countless hours each and every day on the saddle of a 1200 pound quarter horse, riding as fast and cornering as sharply as humanly possible, might have something to do with it.
I don’t know if any of you have seen a horse up-close recently, but they’re quite big. And that’s just your average, everyday horse, much less a horse that’s been bred specifically for speed and technical precision. Taylor’s a nationally ranked, competitive barrel racer. To watch her ride her horse is a study of grace in motion. She makes it look effortless. When you stop to consider that she’s doing all of it while dealing with juvenile idiopathic scoliosis (JIS), it becomes even more impressive.
“Taylor had pneumonia when she was 6 and had a chest X-ray taken by our pediatrician. I had noticed before that her back looked a little odd. So when we got the diagnosis of scoliosis, it wasn’t totally a shock, but it still isn’t what you want to hear,” Dianne Offtermatt, Taylor’s mother recounts. “We were referred to Gillette straight away, and they were amazing at getting us in quickly.”
The Offtermatts met with Joseph Perra, MD, a spine specialist at Gillette Children’s Specialty Healthcare. “Taylor had a case of what we’d call moderate scoliosis,” Perra says. “When I saw her initially in 2013, we were in the monitoring phase and we had appointments every four months to track and reassess things. After the curvature of her spine progressed, we determined that a brace was needed.”
A Member of the Twisted Sister’s Club
Scoliosis is not uncommon, but idiopathic scoliosis (meaning that there is no known cause) often happens in children who are otherwise, completely healthy. When your main experience of going to the doctor’s office is for routine visits and vaccinations, the diagnosis of scoliosis can be an abrupt and unwelcome truth to grapple with.
“One thing I’ll always remember about our consult with Dr. Perra, is just how kind he was. He took time to walk us through the potential choices we’d have to make and what the outcomes might be. When the time for bracing came, we were ready and we had developed a level of trust with him. He also said that Taylor was now a member of the Twisted Sister’s club,” Dianne recalls laughing. “I don’t think she understood the reference to the rock band, but I think it was helpful for her to hear that scoliosis wasn’t just happening to her. She wasn’t alone.”
A Brace Built for a Specific Person
The Orthotics, Prosthetics and Seating (OPS) team at Gillette are a group of individuals who have one goal in mind, and that is to preserve and enhance the abilities of the patients they treat.
The team of spinal orthotists work at Gillette’s main hospital campus in what most closely resembles a workshop, but they’re patient-facing, clinical staff. They’re also quite adept at finding creative solutions to complicated problems.
“What we do at Gillette is unique in the sense that every scoliosis brace that we make, is specifically tailored to the patient,” says Kristin Smith, CO, the orthotist who designed Taylor’s brace. “Designing braces for scoliosis is an intensive and time-consuming process. But during that, you really get to know the patient and their family.”
Of course, children have a tendency to grow over time, which makes frequent adjustments to the braces all the more important.
“One thing we really appreciated about Gillette was the interconnected nature of the staff,” Dianne says. “If we were in for an appointment with Dr. Perra and Taylor’s brace was causing her discomfort, they’d send us down the hall to Kristin and they’d figure it out. Dr. Perra and Kristin reinforced the idea that the best thing Taylor could do to prevent surgery in the future, was to wear her brace as much as possible. But we all know that if it wasn’t comfortable, that seemed much less likely. I think Taylor could tell you that it wasn’t always fun, but their support and encouragement went a long way in making it possible.”
She Believed She Could, So She Did
After nearly four years of wearing a brace 20 hours a day, Dr. Perra determined that Taylor no longer needed to. Five years later, she’s frustrated that her spinal curvature prevented her from being as tall as she could’ve been, but on her horse, Twister, she seems larger than life.
When it comes to barrel racing, it’s safe to Say that Taylor’s pretty good at it. In 2018, she was the 2nd ranked woman in her age group in the country.
Taylor, Twister and her family frequently depart on trips across the country to various competitions. Some of which include prize money in the hundreds of thousands of dollars. In addition to her impressive exploits on her horse, Taylor is also an excellent student.
As far as having scoliosis goes, Taylor doesn’t look back on the time she spent wearing a brace with affection, but she’s very happy she avoided having to have surgery. She and her family credit Dr. Perra, Kristin and the entire team for the care she received that made that possible.
“Kristin and our entire team in OPS do a wonderful job of working with our patients. It’s truly a collaborative effort,” Perra says. “While surgery is always an available option at Gillette and something that we do exceedingly well when necessary, surgery is our last contingency. We make every effort to avoid it when we can. I’m proud of the procedures I’ve done in my career. I’m also incredibly proud of the success we’ve had with patients like Taylor, where no operation was needed. It’s a tremendous personal accomplishment for a 6-year-old to wear a brace for four years. The success she’s having now and going forward has been well-earned.”