Born with Prader-Willi syndrome, a complex genetic condition that affects many parts of her body, Sabrina Hart, age 10, hasn’t let it slow her down. The 4th grader at Green Intermediate School is a cheerleader, swimmer and equestrian among other things.
No stranger to Akron Children’s, Sabrina has been a patient of orthopedic surgeon Dr. Todd Ritzman since she was just a few days old. At age 4, he performed surgery on her hips to place the ball joints back into their sockets.
Although Sabrina was diagnosed with a moderate spinal curve at a young age, in summer 2022 it took a drastic turn.
“Sabrina’s back was curving from right to left and it also curved forward causing her to be out of alignment,” said Todd Hart, Sabrina’s dad. “She would walk with her hand on her hip to try and counterbalance.”
According to Dr. Ritzman, halo-gravity traction is an option for patients with big curves and curves with a lot of rounding of the upper back (also known as kyphosis) which Sabrina had.
“It helps pull the head and spine upward by carefully applying a slow stretch to the spine via a carbon fiber halo that’s attached to a weighted pulley system,” he said. “On average, about a month of treatment can give us a 30% improvement in a curve. For Sabrina, 4 weeks in halo gravity traction resulted in her going from a 90 degree curve to a 50 degree curve, making surgery significantly less risky.”
About a year ago, Sabrina asked her dad to help her start a YouTube channel to document her life as someone living with Prader Willi.
“Sabrina wanted to create awareness around Prader Willi and how it is not letting it stop her from enjoying life to the fullest,” said Todd. “Sabrina lives life unlimited, and she wanted to share that with others – both the good and the bad. That’s why her channel is called Sabrina Unlimited.”
When Sabrina entered Akron Children’s in April 2023 for a 4-week inpatient stay in preparation for her growth rod surgery, her dad documented it all – from Sabrina’s tears to her happy dances around the halls of Akron Children’s.
“After her halo was surgically placed, they added weights every day to help straighten her back a little more so she could be ready for surgery to have growth rods placed,” said Todd.
A typical day in the hospital involved school, daily bike rides in physical therapy, art and music therapy, visits with the doggie brigade and frequent walks all over the Akron hospital’s campus.
“We were always on the go and that drove the nurses crazy because they couldn’t find us when they needed us,” joked Todd.
Sabrina’s devoted parents, which includes mom Jennifer, were with her every step of the way – taking turns sleeping at the hospital and spending the days with their daughter. Sabrina will need to return to the hospital every 6 months for outpatient surgery to lengthen her rods.
“The goal of the growth rods is to hold her in a straighter position allowing us to gradually lengthen the rods,” said Dr. Ritzman. “This helps us to control the curve, allows her to grow taller and ensures her lungs continue to grow.”
Sabrina’s growth rods will be removed, and her spine will be fused, when she nears full growth. In the meantime, she and her dad will continue to document her many adventures on her YouTube channel to show the world that anything is possible with the right mindset and a great support system.
To watch more of Sabrina’s adventures, visit her YouTube channel. For more information on the Spine Program and the innovative technologies being used to advance care for children and adolescents with abnormal curvature of the spine, visit akronchildrens.org.