“Dr. Kelly is super sweet and he understood my sense of humor,” says 14-year-old Camryn Akerson. “Every time we talked to him prior to my surgery, it was solidified that this was the right thing to do, to switch doctors. He is my life saver.”
Valerie Akerson’s youngest daughter, Camryn, had been treated for scoliosis her entire life. In May 2020, Camryn and her parents were told it was time for surgery. This wasn’t a surprise; Camryn had gone through a big growth spurt and, for the first time in 14 years, had visibly changed before her parents’ eyes.
“Camryn had lived her whole life without pain — up until March of this year,” says Valerie. “As a mom, I knew something wasn’t right. We were thrilled with the care we were receiving, but at the same time we felt we needed a second opinion. We had to advocate for our daughter and her health.”
Valerie contacted St. Louis Children’s Hospital. “I was told right away that Dr. Brian Kelly was the doctor we should see.”
After learning more about Dr. Kelly, a Washington University pediatric orthopedic surgeon at St. Louis Children’s Hospital, the family decided to transition Camryn’s care. “To be honest, we don’t do well with change,” says Valerie, “but once we watched Dr. Kelly’s YouTube video, we knew we were making the right decision.”
The time, care, compassion and education Dr. Kelly gave the family was extraordinary, says Valerie. “The way he talked to Camryn was amazing. She is tiny, but mighty, and most people talk to her as the little child she physically seems to be. Dr. Kelly literally got down on her level and told her what an important role she had in this process and asked her what she wanted to do. He never pressured us to make the transition.”
“When I first met Camryn, I knew that she was a pretty cool gal,” says Dr. Kelly. “She had complex scoliosis issues and the family was looking for another opinion. I viewed her images and history and gave them a fresh point of view. That’s my job.”
Camryn’s case was tricky because she had other medical issues to go along with her quite sizeable scoliosis and very stiff bones.
Dr. Kelly offered two options: a bigger procedure that would require more surgery and more risk and a more limited procedure, with less risk. “I asked Camryn, ‘This is your back. What is your goal and what are you hoping for?’” says Dr. Kelly. “Camryn knows her body, and I wanted to make sure her viewpoint was front and center — and I got her thoughts on what she wanted to do.”
Camryn said she was having pain and wanted it gone.
Together, they made a decision to do what was best for Camryn, and selected the limited surgery, known as a thoracic spinal fusion. Surgery was scheduled for Sept. 30.
On the morning of surgery Camryn was nervous. This was her 17th surgery, but the first one in a new hospital. With tears flowing, she begged to go home, telling her parents she did not want to do this.
“Before surgery, Dr. Kelly came in and calmed Camryn’s nerves,” says Valerie, “He knelt to her level, looked in her eyes and assured her she was going to do great.”
Because of Camryn’s condition and head tilt, the plan for surgery was a mild to moderate correction. When Dr. Kelly came out of surgery, he said he was pleased with what correction he got and showed us a post-op X-ray,” Valerie says, “and we cried tears of joy. It was so much more than we had envisioned.”
“Camryn was very focused on the numbers and the degree of the curve of her spine,” Valerie adds, “Her thoracic curve had measured 97 and her lumbar had measured 60. When Camryn woke up in the recovery area, all she wanted to know was what her numbers were.”
Dr. Kelly stopped by the ICU before he left that evening, pulled back the curtain in her room, looked at Camryn and said, simply, "50 and 24."
Camryn calls Dr. Kelly her “life saver.” She returned to school two weeks after surgery and is pain free. Her posture is straighter and she can breathe more easily.
“Camryn handled the surgery beautifully, and she exceeded my expectations,” Dr. Kelly says. “It’s pretty extraordinary how Camryn handles herself. She was a pleasure to take care of, and I am so glad I met her.”
Valerie credits Dr. Kelly with her daughter’s new outlook.
“We have our girl back, thanks to Dr. Kelly.”