Medical Miracle Allows Girl to Stand Up Straight

Krystle Eginger had visited many doctors in her 17 years. All dangled carrots of hope; all delivered disappointing results.

Dr. Oheneba Boachie offered another chance, one that risked paralysis or even death. But Krystle never hesitated. For the teenager, any risk was worth the chance to stand up straight for the first time in her life.

Krystle was born with VATER syndrome, a rare genetic disorder that creates vertebral, anal, tracheal, esophageal and renal abnormalities. She suffered all of those problems, but the most visible deformation was in her spine, due to chronic kyphosis, similar to scoliosis.

By the time she was 8 years old, Krystle was almost bent in half, her spine growing at a 90-degree angle from the rest of her body.

Doctors made several attempts to correct the problem. A metal rod was inserted into Krystle's back, but that, too, started to bend. Vertebrae in her spine were welded together three times, but those attempts failed as well.

With no other obvious options, Krystle was subjected to the cruel taunting of her peers and even thoughtless adults. She was nicknamed "hunchback," and she came home from school in tears. By her sophomore year of high school, the ridicule became so unbearable that Krystle dropped out.

"She went through torment from the other kids at school," said Krystle's mother, JoAnn Eginger. "We couldn't go out in public without someone making comments."

The physical effects of VATER became life-threatening. Krystle's organs were failing. One kidney was completely nonfunctional, the other was only operating at 30 percent. Krystle needed a solution, and Boachie, chief of Scoliosis Service at the Hospital for Special Surgery in New York, offered one.

"It really broke my heart when I saw her in that condition," Boachie said. "I was very sure I could help her because I've done this before."

The risks were high, but Krystle and her family were willing to chance paralysis or death if it meant a shot at a normal life.

During the operation, Boachie cut out the bent portion in Krystle's spine, then reconnected the straight portions artificially by surrounding them with titanium mesh and adding two steel rods for strength.

The results have been life altering. Today Krystle stands tall at 4-foot-11. She's back in school, getting good grades and her kidney is functioning at 50 percent.

"I feel great," Krystle said.