Gabby Rodriguez's Story
Back Behind the Plate After Spine Surgery
As an award-winning softball catcher, Gabby Rodriguez is happiest behind home plate. Since she started playing competitively at age 11, Gabby had her heart set on participating in Division I softball in college. However, this dream suddenly seemed unlikely after doctors diagnosed her at age 14 with a curvature of the spine so severe that it required surgery. Gabby’s local doctor informed her that if she returned to softball at all, playing catcher was out of the question. Looking for a second opinion, Gabby and her family made their way from the suburbs of Buffalo, New York to New York City to visit the world-renown scoliosis specialists at NewYork-Presbyterian Och Spine.
Gabby’s health issues began in high school when she began wetting the bed and experiencing back pain. Eventually, in 2017 an X-ray of her spine during a chiropractor visit revealed a 69-degree curve — far beyond the point of bracing. The diagnosis: adolescent idiopathic scoliosis.
“I could barely look my daughter in the eye,” recalls Gabby's mother, Christina, who works at a hospital near Buffalo. “She left there feeling defeated and terrified.”
Unwilling to take this prognosis, Christina reached out to her colleagues in neurosurgery who recommended she contact Dr. Lawrence Lenke, one of the world's foremost leaders in complex spinal deformity surgery.
Dr Lenke serves as Surgeon-in-Chief at NewYork-Presbyterian Och Spine and Chief of the Division of Spinal Surgery at NewYork-Presbyterian/Columbia University Irving Medical Center. During their first consultation with him, the mother and daughter sensed they had made the right decision.
Dr. Lenke subdued Gabby’s fear that her scoliosis would mean she would have to give up her softball dreams. “Dr. Lenke told me that my healing process was on my own time and that I could do whatever I felt I was able to do,” Gabby explains.
Rather than rush to perform the surgery as soon as possible, Dr. Lenke allowed Gabby to schedule her procedure for a time that suited her best. This meant Gabby could complete her 2018 softball season and recover from the operation during her downtime.
For Gabby’s operation in summer 2018, Dr. Lenke performed a posterior spinal fusion. During this procedure, he inserted multiple screws into the vertebrae of Gabby’s spine. These screws held two parallel rods in place and worked to correct the curve. Dr. Lenke then placed bone grafts over the spinal elements to fuse the bones into place and maintain the spine correction.
After a few months of rehab, Gabby was back to swinging her bat and catching balls. By the following February, she was practicing as a catcher for the Lake Shore Senior High School Eagles. She ended her varsity softball career as team captain, and led the Eagles to a first-ever undefeated 19-0 record and the section championship. Gabby also attained her goal of playing Division I softball as a catcher for another team of Eagles: the Purple Eagles of Niagara University in nearby Lewiston, New York. She began studying there in fall 2021.
“We all knew how important softball was to Gabby and fortunately were able to schedule her scoliosis surgery after she had finished her season to allow her to heal before returning the following year,” says Dr. Lenke. “I am so proud of how she has done postoperatively and she exemplifies how a motivated and talented teenager can take a setback in her health but come out of it on the other side even stronger.”
Gabby often shares her story of recovery with other scoliosis patients to help ease their anxieties. “I am extremely happy with my outcome. I am ten times better at softball than I ever was, and I don't have as much back pain as before,” says Gabby. “I wouldn't be where I am today if it wasn't for this surgery. This operation flipped my life around, and that couldn't have happened without Dr. Lenke.”
T learn more about Dr. Lenke and NewYork-Presbyterian Och Spine, visit nyp.org/ochspine.