Meet Gracie!

A Letter from Gracie's Mom - Dr. Jill Flanagan/Dr. Cliff Willimon's Patient

"Gracie has enjoyed sports and teams since she was a little girl. She has always liked the competition, but equally valued the
fellowship and team experience. I remember the text I received from Gracie that afternoon like it was yesterday.

It was August 11, 2016 the 4th day of her sophomore year. It simply said “my back hurts”. That was a Thursday and by Sunday morning we were in the ER at Scottish Rite for what would be our first of 5 ER visits over 2 weeks for extreme back pain. Our regular life came to a screeching halt.

Gracie has always been a healthy physically active athlete. She has played soccer, basketball, volleyball, swam, and run cross country over the years with rarely any injury or complaint. We went through the usual process of seeing different doctors and specialists and it seemed that she had a basic lower back strain or possible herniation. We were told that rest, PT and anti-inflammatory medication would be the solution. This is a difficult situation since pain is impossible to quantify and we had no other symptoms to point to anything other than a lower back strain.

Needless to say, we all felt fearful and confused. After 2 weeks of unbearable pain we were fortunate to be sent to the ER when Dr. Flanagan was on call. She ordered an MRI and Gracie was admitted to Scottish Rite with an infection in a lumbar disc. After 5 days in the hospital on IV antibiotics and heavy duty pain medication she still had no improvement. It was horribly exhausting to watch our daughter suffer unrelenting pain.

Dr. Flanagan and Dr Willimon with Children's Orthopaedics of Atlanta and Dr. Shapiro with infectious disease worked tirelessly to discover the cause of her infection and pain. A second MRI was ordered and revealed infection in not only the disc but in the adjacent L3 and L4 vertebrae, and an adjacent abscess. Thankfully the abscess was able to be drained and the specific bacteria isolated.

Finally, she was on the road to recovery with the correct iv antibiotics and treatment. We spent 10 more days at Scottish Rite waiting for the meds to kick in and for Gracie to get some relief. The nurses became like family and the attention and care was tireless.

Gracie showed an amazing amount of courage and faith. We prayed and prayed and Gracie leaned into her relationship with God to find peace and patience with her healing. We were continually humbled by all of the incredible stories at the hospital and all the incredible patients and families dealing with intense situations.

We moved into her hospital room with her and worked with the medical team to begin the healing process. Gracie missed 6 weeks of school and of course the rest of the fall soccer season. She recovered steadily and made lots of trips to all of the different specialists who helped with her treatment. She worked hard to catch up on her school work and get back into the rhythm of her life in our small town of Dahlonega.

Her progress was good and as the spring soccer season approached, the question came up of whether or not she might try to play again. Dr Flanagan was a great encourager in Gracie regaining confidence in her physical ability.

Gracie was lucky enough to play varsity soccer at
Lumpkin High School her freshman year as they made it all the way to the elite 8 in the state tournament. This year she is a sophomore and the team still has a strong roster. We began discussing her options with all of her doctors. We made a plan for her to start slowly and work up to speed while getting clearance from each of her doctors prior to the start of the season.

Incredibly, after being off the field for 6 months, Gracie was cleared to play the week of the first game of the season. Her coach was very accommodating and understanding and worked with her to get her back up to speed. To our surprise, she played in the first game and looked strong and most importantly, had fun being back on the field".

We are so happy to see positive results for Gracie and wish her and her family continued healing and recovery!

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