2 sisters, 2 harrowing health scares

One sister loves horses, while the other is passionate about tennis. One thing they have in common is time spent recuperating at Norton Children’s Hospital.

Expertise in children’s orthopedic care

Both Norton Leatherman Spine and Norton Children’s Orthopedics of Louisville are nationally recognized specialists in pediatric orthopedic care. They understand that growing children have their own unique needs, as do their bones and muscles.

Caroline Herzig’s life revolves around horses, while her sister, Catherine, lives for tennis. Despite their different interests, the girls have a lot in common. Due to spine surgery and a severely broken leg, the sisters have a combined three rods and 20 screws in their bones. They also spent time recovering in the same unit at Norton Children’s Hospital.

Caroline, age 12, competes in eventing, an equestrian sport where a horse and rider compete against others in a cross-country course, jumping and dressage.

“She loves horses and competing,” said Emilie Herzig, the girls’ mom.

But a serious diagnosis forced Caroline’s riding to a screeching halt. In fall 2022, she went to her annual physical, where her pediatrician noticed a significant curve in her spine.

“Caroline has extremely broad shoulders, which compensated for not seeing the physical side of scoliosis,” Emilie said.

“I felt kind of shocked because I didn’t feel anything in my back,” Caroline said.

Caroline’s family consulted Steven D. Glassman, M.D., spine surgeon with Norton Leatherman Spine. After multiple scans, Caroline was diagnosed with idiopathic scoliosis, a type of spine curvature that occurs most often during the growth spurt just before puberty. Her spine had a 50-degree curve, which is considered severe. Together, Dr. Glassman and the family determined surgery was the best option.

“If curves get big enough, they may require surgical treatment,” Dr. Glassman said. “Typically, once they heal, the patient can go back to completely normal activities and generally doesn’t have further issues as an older adolescent or adult.”

In November 2022, Dr. Glassman performed the operation. He inserted two rods and 16 screws to straighten Caroline’s spine. Afterward, Caroline spent five days on the sixth floor of Norton Children’s Hospital.

“My daughter was cared for by the most caring, professional, compassionate team,” Emilie said. “She had some rough moments, and they always immediately took care of her needs. The child life team and facility dogs brought smiles with activities and visits.”

Caroline was determined to get back to the sport she loved. In January 2023 — just two months after her surgery — she was back on a horse. By June, she was fully competing with no restrictions.

“When I was able to compete again, I felt ecstatic,” Caroline said. “I was very happy because I thought I was going to have to go back to basics, but I didn’t have to.”

One medical journey ends, another begins

In August 2023, Catherine, age 14, was at a local indoor trampoline park. As she came down from a jump, she felt and heard a loud snap. A trip to the Norton Children’s Hospital emergency department revealed the damage. Catherine had an open fracture of her left tibia. Emergency surgery was needed.

Jennifer M. Brey, M.D., pediatric orthopedic surgeon with Norton Children’s Orthopedics of Louisville, affiliated with the UofL School of Medicine, was on call that day. Dr. Brey received word of Catherine’s injury and headed straight to the hospital.

Tennis player Catherine Herzig makes a play at the net

“This type of injury is at high risk of infection and poor healing if not treated properly,” Dr. Brey said. “It requires urgent surgery to clean and stabilize.”

To fix Catherine’s leg, Dr. Brey inserted a rod and four screws into Catherine’s tibia. After surgery, Catherine was wheeled to the sixth floor of Norton Children’s Hospital. There, Emilie saw some familiar faces.

“Catherine ended up having some of the same nurses that Caroline had, which was the best,” Emilie said. “Everyone remembered one another, and after the nurses’ quick moment of being stunned we were back, they worked their absolute magic and took over with Catherine. To lighten the situation, we all would just laugh in disbelief that Catherine was now the patient with Caroline coming to visit.”

Catherine ended up being discharged a couple of days later. As they left, the nurses, Emilie and Catherine hoped they could go awhile without making another appearance on the sixth floor.

“The journey has been tough, but I’m grateful to have God, my family and friends to get me through it,” Catherine said. “I hope to be able to be back to where I was with the help of my doctors and physical therapist, Josh.”

Shared experience brings sisters together

With Caroline back in the saddle and Catherine recovering, the sisters continue to support each other through it all.

“It’s definitely brought them closer together,” Emilie said.

Looking back, Emilie is grateful for the care her daughters received at Norton Children’s and Norton Leatherman Spine.

“We could not have gotten through this without their doctors and all of the nurses,” she said. “They took great care of both my girls.”