By the time she was seven years old, Savannah Erck had endured two surgeries for scoliosis, a curvature of the spinal column that can be caused by the disorder. In 2007, she began experiencing double vision when playing softball. Diagnosed at Syracuse University Hospital in New York with basilar invagination, a condition which causes the top vertebrae to migrate upwards into the brain, her doctor felt the only neurosurgeon who could save her life was nearly 1,000 miles away, at University of Iowa Stead Family Children’s Hospital.
In Savannah’s case, the vertebrae were compressing the lower part of her brain stem. Left untreated, the progression of the disorder would have been painful and, ultimately, fatal.
Correcting her condition required a very delicate and complex surgery, so Savannah’s parents turned to Iowa for the expertise of one of the world’s most renowned pediatric neurosurgeons. According to her father, Dean, “Every neurosurgeon on the East Coast that I talked to said that if this was their daughter, they would want Arnold Menezes, MD to perform the surgery.”
Savannah’s 12-hour surgery involved a large surgical team and was followed by weeks of recovery at UI Stead Family Children’s Hospital. She also returned in December 2008 for an additional surgery to correct scoliosis. “My daughter’s first operation was so successful that, when it came time to put titanium rods in her back eight months later, we came back to Iowa because of the complicated nature of intubating a child with this condition,” says Dean.
“We have made two treks to Iowa for two very serious surgeries that could not be done anywhere else,” says her father. “Every aspect of our Iowa experience was life-changing. We love and admire the UI more than I can say.”
While recovering after her first UI surgery, Savannah had a very special brush with the Iowa Hawkeyes. Her intensive care nurse arranged for now-former Hawkeye football player Tyler Blum to visit Savannah. Dean and Julia, Savannah’s mother, remember that as a special occasion. “When he came in the room, my daughter smiled for the first time since the surgery,” said Dean. “I can’t tell you how much of a difference this made to her. This young man demonstrated everything that was right with Iowa and college athletes.”
After her procedures, Savannah is a typical girl who enjoys music and reading and is doing very well in school. “Savannah is a beautiful girl,” says her proud father. “UI Stead Family Children’s Hospital changed all our lives. I can’t thank them enough for saving my daughter’s life and then fixing her so she could enjoy it.”