After Injury, Dancer Finds New Purpose in Life

By Orlando Health


Broken Dreams

The moment she landed, she knew. Something wasn’t right. Kelley had performed the calypso leap countless times, usually sticking her landing, and even taught the move to her dance students. This time, however, her right foot failed her. The worst scenarios immediately crept into her mind. “If something were to go wrong, that’s it,” she thought. “My job is done.” Her trip back home to Florida was supposed to be a break from the rush of life as a performer and dance instructor in New York, not another stressor. But by morning, the dancer faced excruciating pain she couldn’t ignore.

A Natural Born Talent

As a child growing up in Florida, Kelley knew she was destined for a career in dance and as her talent grew, it carried her around the world. In 2016, Kelley moved to New York City confident that her career would thrive. Sure enough, Kelley was soon performing with famous drag queens, dancing in musicals and truly making a name for herself in The Big Apple. As her performing career blossomed, Kelley also began to teach dance to young students. It was a natural extension of her talent and a highly rewarding way of expressing her love for the art.

But then came COVID-19. Hit hard by the pandemic and shutdown, Kelly decided the closure was a perfect opportunity to visit family back home in Orlando. Welcomed by her parents, Kelley was grateful that her visit would offer some downtime, but when a friend heard she was in town and invited her to attend a dance class, she couldn’t refuse. Little did she know, the decision would jeopardize her entire future.

Unable to put any weight on her foot, Kelley’s mom took her to a nearby CareSpot Urgent Care where doctors confirmed her worst fear: her foot was broken. Worry filled her heart. Kelley knew the injury had devastating potential for her career. Thankfully, the CareSpot Urgent Care team assured her there was a team of orthopedic experts close by at Orlando Health Jewett Orthopedic Institute.

Once at Orlando Health Kelley met Dr. M. Kareem Shaath, an orthopedic traumatologist who focuses on foot and ankle trauma with Orlando Health Jewett Orthopedic Institute. When she arrived, she instantly felt cared for by the orthopedic team. Dr. Shaath listened to her story and how much dance meant to her. He knew how important it was that she healed. “Being in my situation as a dancer, they knew how stressed I was,” Kelley said. Dr. Shaath’s team understood completely. Dr. Shaath decided Kelley needed surgery and they began planning for it. 

Due to Kelley’s out-of-state insurance, she was advised to have surgery in New York. Instead, she took a leap of faith and chose to continue with her experts from Orlando Health Jewett Orthopedic Institute. Today, she’ll gladly tell you she has no regrets.

Two weeks later, Kelley arrived for her procedure. Though she never imagined her trip to Florida would include a trip to the hospital, she believes everything happens for a reason and put all of her faith in Dr. Shaath and his team. “They know what they’re doing,” she assured herself. “And they will provide whatever you need to make sure you come out on top more than ever.”

I express all my feelings through dance, so dance equals life to me. – Kelley, Orthopedic Patient

Kelley’s surgery went perfectly. During the procedure, Dr. Shaath placed a plate and four screws in her right foot to repair the injury. She woke up to Dr. Shaath at her side. Exuding warmth and confidence, he let her know the procedure was successful. “He reassured me. He really helped me a lot and made me very calm with everything because I was nervous. That let me know that he cared a lot,” she said. His comforting bedside manner granted her solace as she prepared for recovery.

While in the hospital, there wasn’t a moment Kelley's team of nurses left her side. They became fast friends and talked constantly to soothe her mind. As a first-time patient, Kelley was a bit anxious. And adding to her stress was COVID-19. She worried that her parents couldn’t visit and she’d have to brave the new experience alone. So when the team told her they had enhanced safety measures in place to make visits safe, she was ecstatic. Having her mom in the room for support made all the difference as she prepared for discharge.

After her injury, Kelley reassessed everything and realized her visit to Florida would be a move. With the help of her dad, she packed her bags and settled in Florida once again. Still on crutches at the time, Kelley knew a promising future was in store once she fully recovered.

Six weeks after surgery, Kelley’s walking boot was removed. She couldn’t believe how seamless the process was. She dreamed of dancing again, and knew that because of Dr. Shaath and the team at Orlando Health Jewett Orthopedic Institute, her dream would come true. “The recovery process was easier than expected,” Kelley said. “They really guided me on what I needed to do and precautions I needed to take. I even felt better a week earlier than needed.”

Just one month after having the boot removed, Kelley was back in her groove. With caution and precision, she’s since successfully performed a calypso, the same leap that broke her foot. She is now dancing full-on and amazes her students with her abilities. Her determination to overcome her injury combined with Orlando Health’s expertise paved the way for her new beginning.

“Everything I’ve been through, dance has been involved. It’s how I get through a lot of troubles and traumas in my life,” Kelley said as she reflected on her experience. “I express all my feelings through dance, so dance equals life to me.” She’s now putting the same effort she put into her New York shows into teaching the next generation of dance that “art comes from imperfection” and to use emotion and hard times to fuel their craft just like she does.

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