The feeling of being back in her old dance studio brought back a ton of memories for Melissa Gonzalez.
“I started dancing when I was three,” she said proudly, in her green USF Bulls shirt.
The Xtreme Dance Company of Tampa practice room is where Gonzalez spent six years perfecting her craft. It’s where endless leaps, spins, and bends propelled her to her dream of making the USF SunDolls dance team.
It also represents a place where she thought dancing may end.
“It eventually got painful as the curve got worse,” said the 19-year old.
Her pediatrician discovered scoliosis at a routine checkup when Gonzalez was 12-years old. The next five years she tried therapies and, a back brace but nothing worked.
She needed corrective surgery.
Dance may be over.
“That was very serious. That was my number one question to my doctor,” she said.
Gonzalez underwent spinal surgery in 2015 at the Children’s Scoliosis Center at St. Joseph’s Children’s Hospital in Tampa. Since then, she graduated from Tampa Catholic High School, won a state dance championship, won runner-up for the Miss Florida preliminary pageant, and enrolled at USF Honors College, where she is a second-year veteran of the USF SunDolls Dance Team.
The life-change has been profound.
“Complete strangers have contacted us and said, ‘My daughter has scoliosis. I didn’t think this was possible’,” said Gonzalez’s mother, Vickie.
Melissa is now studying to become a pediatric orthopedic surgeon, so she can help children who are dealing with scoliosis have positive outcomes like hers.
“I’ve always wanted to be a doctor but this surgery really changed my life and I want to help change other people’s.”
“There have been incredible breakthroughs in medical technology and those living with scoliosis have very real options for treatment,” said Dr. David Siambanes, director of the Children’s Scoliosis Center at St. Joseph’s Children’s Hospital in Tampa, and the surgeon who performed Gonzalez’s surgery. “Melissa’s story is wonderful and unique, but recovery results like hers are increasingly more common, where most patients are able to experience a normal life after treatment.”
Melissa has gotten to shadow her surgeon in preparation for her career and watch him perform the same procedure that she underwent.
According to the National Scoliosis Foundation, Scoliosis affects up to three percent of the U.S. population. That figure equates to roughly seven million people nationwide.