Spinal problems inspire dancer to study medicine
EDITOR’S NOTE: This is one of a series of Saturday profiles of area residents and their stories. To suggest a profile, contact features editor Burton Cole at email@example.com or metro editor Marly Reichert at firstname.lastname@example.org
By ASHLEY FOX
NEW MIDDLETOWN — Looking at 18-year-old Chloe Mershimer, one would never guess she had a major surgery just a few short years ago.
Standing tall and straight with long reddish hair, the New Middletown resident underwent a spinal fusion for scoliosis when she was a freshman at Cardinal Mooney High School.
Mershimer’s journey began when she started to have migraines when she was in the fourth grade, prompting a trip to the family doctor.
She also began going to a massotherapist, who noticed the scoliosis. During an annual physical, Mershimer mentioned what the massotherapist found and the scoliosis was monitored.
Everything changed several short years later.
During summer break, Mershimer was swimming in her pool with her younger neighbors.
“I went to pick one of them up to go into the pool, and my mom yelled at me to stop” as she saw a definitive curve to her daughter’s back, Mershimer said. “It was all of a sudden.”
A call to the family’s chiropracter led to X-rays, confirming she needed further care.
At her age, in the eighth grade by then, Mershimer couldn’t use corrective braces, which need to be used at a younger age, she said.
She was then referred to Akron Children’s Hospital in Akron.
On Jan. 18, 2018, the then-freshman went in for the surgery.
She had the spinal fusion to correct a 56-degree curve, the most severe of three she had, which was located mid-spine.
Finals were pushed back to the day before and day of her surgery due to snow days. It was also her father’s birthday.
“I was a nervous wreck that entire week,” Mershimer said. “Walking in it felt surreal.”
Before her surgery, she was able to walk into the operating room and look at the different instruments and equipment that would be used.
The entire surgical team let her ask questions, which Mershimer said helped calm her nerves a bit.
“I met everyone,” she said, which also helped. “Everyone was so welcoming. It made me more relaxed.”
Throughout the diagnosis and surgery, Mershimer was active in sports and dance.
In middle school, she played basketball, volleyball, track and cheered.
The surgery did impact some of her athleticsm.
She’s not allowed to play contact sports, which she only did in middle school, but she does still dance, although she said it’s different.
“With dance, even now, I’ve noticed some limitations, but I’ve definitely gained a lot of it back,” she said.
Mershimer has danced since she was 3 and has studied ballet, jazz, pointe and modern dance.
Her support system included not only her parents Rick and Betsy and dog Zoey, but the entire team of Mooney.
“Mooney was so helpful with everything,” she said, noting a meeting took place with her teachers, administrators and parents to discuss her studies. “They were so helpful and worked with me to make sure I was comfortable, that I was OK,” Mershimer said. She’s still close with the teachers she had her freshman year.
After her surgery, Mershimer was home most of February, rotating two-period intervals each day of going back to the classroom.
Her parents walked with her around the house or out to the driveway to keep her moving.
Mershimer intended to become more involved with volunteer efforts her junior year of high school, but the COVID-19 pandemic hit, leaving her unable.
This summer before she takes off for college, Mershimer said she will be babysitting and working with kids more.
She played Gertrude in “Seussical the Musical” earlier this summer. When she first put her costume on, a wave of nostalgia hit her.
“The little girls were there, and it threw me back because I used to be like that, watching the older girls dancing,” Mershimer said.
While she’s at The Ohio State University in the fall, she’s going to incorporate dance into her schedule, Mershimer said. When she comes home, she’ll “jump in on a few classes,” too.
Her experience with the surgery, as well as the atmosphere created by everyone at Akron Children’s, has inspired Mershimer to study chemistry and pre-med.
For anyone facing a surgery, Mershimer said to “definitely listen to your doctors.”
“They’re best interest is you and they want you to get better,” she said.
Also, there is no dumb question.
“Don’t be afraid to ask questions,” Mershimer said. She had a packet of her own questions for her surgeon before the surgery.
“Be positive. Have a positive, optimistic mindset,” which helps through recovery, Mershimer said.