Professional race car driver Cassie Gannis suffered from scoliosis as a child and teenager, going from a 15 percent curvature of the spine to more than 50 percent, even while wearing a brace. After several years, her doctors determined she would need corrective surgery. Always known for being an athlete and having a strong will, she was determined not to let scoliosis bring her down or dampen her dreams.
Scoliosis is an abnormal curvature of the spine. In most cases, the cause is unknown, but it usually starts in the preteen years and most commonly in girls. Treatment for scoliosis can include general monitoring as the child grows up, wearing a brace to correct the curve and corrective surgery. Many people are scared and confused when they hear the diagnosis. Parents often wonder if it means their child will have limited abilities or if the condition will continue to get worse.
This is the third of three posts about Cassie’s story, written for our #HealthBeat campaign. In Part 3, Cassie shares her trials with physical therapy, fast food and getting back to racing.
Part 3: The journey home
The day had finally come for me to be discharged. There is nothing better than being told you can go home! The funniest thing was, I just wanted to get home and see my dogs! It wasn’t to sleep in my own bed or be home with my family. Well, I did want to be home with my family, but I really missed my fur family!
The hospital had given me a bunch of these flat paper-like pillows and they really came in handy. We were able to take them home because the hospital tosses them after you leave. We placed them on the car seats. I sat up front and I just remember being very stiff. I know I didn’t like the bumps in the road - that was for sure. But I remember my dad doing the best he could do to avoid all bumps, manholes and potholes.
Once home, the days sort of blurred together at first. I would get up, get cleaned up and get my back dressing changed. Taking the tape off my back to change the dressing hurt a lot. I seemed to have a sensitively to the tape, which made it hard to peel off without taking skin with it. Once we got through that, I felt so tired I had to take a nap.
The first few days I slept on a portable bed in our family room. After a few days of that, I was allowed to go up and down stairs once a day and since my bedroom was upstairs, I would go up at night and back down in the morning.
The luxury of a shower
One of the things I really wanted to do was shower but I wasn’t allowed to get my back wet. My mom was able to rig up the shower with an outdoor resin chair and my dad installed a hand-held sprayer in the shower. It worked really well. I just sat on the chair and literally got hosed off. For the most part, it was just my front getting hosed off but it made me feel fresh.
It always felt great to get washed, but it sure did make me tired. For clothes, I wore a lot of elastic tank tops and cotton pants that were very comfy. I would step into the tops and my mom would pull them up and over my arms. Wearing everything elastic made dressing very easy.
A fast-food run with mom
It took me a while to get my appetite back. I knew I had to eat well because I had a lot of healing to do. I was sure to eat lots of protein and calcium and focus on the right food groups to promote healing.
After a few weeks home, we started to get cabin fever. My sister was back at school and my dad was out of town. So it was just my mom and me repeating the same routing day in and day out. I think we were both feeling down so one day my mom said, “Let’s go to McDonald’s.” I couldn’t believe she had said that! I thought she was crazy!
She placed a bunch of the paper pillows in the car and carefully loaded me in. She was careful to not hit potholes and stop the car suddenly. As we went through the drive-thru window, we started to crack up! Here we were just trying to get out, and we were getting fast food. It was such a nice break and the perfect thing to do. Fast food had never tasted so good! LOL. We did that every few days and it began to be our little adventure.
The hard work of physical therapy
I also started physical therapy after I got home. Most of my therapy consisted of improving my ability to move and function, and my strength and flexibility. The work was hard, but my physical therapists were so nice. The fact that I wanted to work hard made the process easier. My mom kept telling me there would be a light at the end of the tunnel and as therapy went on, I found that to be true.
After a while, my hair started to look pretty dirty so my mom made an appointment at a nearby hair salon. We went to the salon to get my hair washed because I couldn’t get my head wet for a long time. It was hard to tilt back into the bowl, but those extra flat plastic pillows made it tolerable. Having my hair washed never felt so great!
Back to racing!
I was six months out of surgery and itching to get back in the racing seat! Along with swimming, at the age of 10 I had started racing quarter midgets in South Mountain Park. I began to win and over time I discovered I really had a passion for racing! After Quarter Midgets, I moved up to the Bandolero Series and then the Legends Series. I had started to race in the ASA Speed Trucks when I had to undergo surgery.
At the six-month mark, there was a practice for the Legends scheduled in Tucson and I thought that would be a perfect place to start. We had a special certified racing seat made for the car. This seat fits exactly to my body dimensions. At my next doctor’s appointment, the X-rays showed that I had significant healing in the surgery area and my spine specialist allowed me to just practice on a track with no other drivers. It was the news I had been waiting for. Once I completed my first practice, there was no turning back! I was back - back to racing!
Don’t let fear or scoliosis stop you
Please know that scoliosis does have an end and it is survivable. I can honestly say going through the surgery was so worth it! I was told after surgery that I grew 2 inches during surgery. Once I went through physical therapy, got back to school and back to racing, I found I had so much more self-confidence! No more sweatshirts! I could now stand up straight and tall.
I also began to move up in racing. I own my own NASCAR Super Late Model team. I have raced in NASCAR K&N Pro Series West, ARCA and NASCAR Camping World Trucks. My goal is to eventually race in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series.
Don’t let fear stop you! Scoliosis is just like taking the green flag: Work through the race and know that at the checkered flag it is so worth the journey!
You can learn more about scoliosis with these resources:
These earlier blog posts have tips for maintaining a healthy back:
Read this series
Providence is pleased to share the stories of great people who have overcome health conditions. As part of our population health program, we want to share insights and stories that help bring awareness to common health conditions. Not all the people featured in our stories are Providence patients.