Republish this article
9th August 2016

Young Amputee Dances Into Hearts on Prosthetic Pointe

Every young ballet student’s dream is a pair of toe shoes, the reward for years of training. When Gabi Shull won hers at age 14 the achievement inspired people worldwide – because one of Gabi’s satin slippers is on a prosthetic leg.

Graceful and pretty, with long dark hair tumbling down her back, the Missouri teen was just 9 when bone cancer was discovered in her knee. Doctors amputated the leg at mid-thigh. Then they reattached her foot and ankle backward to turn the foot into a knee.

The rare procedure, known as rotationplasty, has been used since the 1970s to help child amputees. Unlike an artificial knee, the reattached foot grows with the child. With the right prosthetic, almost any activity is possible – an example of how medtech can brighten life’s prospects after a traumatic diagnosis.

Today, Gabi is on her school’s cheerleading squad. She stood on a paddleboard during a family vacation to Mexico, despite the guide’s misgivings. Her passionate love of dance, though, was what helped her through the harrowing rounds of chemotherapy and painful rehabilitation.

“I basically told myself, get through chemo, learn to walk, then I could just dance again,” Gabi told The Kansas City Star newspaper.

Videos on the Internet document her increasing grace and strength. She became a spokeswoman for Truth365, a U.S. nonprofit that advocates research into childhood cancer, appearing on posters and in videos. Television and newspapers have told her story. The Rockettes applauded her. This August, she traveled to Texas as featured speaker at a Dancers vs. Cancer benefit.

Her most loving supporters are probably her mother, Debbie, and her father, Andrew, an officer in the Air Force. Outside her family, Gabi’s videos have attracted hundreds of thousands of viewers. She has tens of thousands of followers on social media, where she posts photos of herself happily smiling and mugging with family and friends.

“I guess what’s really wonderful about her is how she’s inspired our whole community with her resilience and ability to tackle something most people would have given up on,” said Jennifer Renfrow, owner and director of Center Stage Academy of the Performing Arts in Warrensburg, where Gabi and her three sisters — Maria, Allyson, and Christina — all grew up dancing.

Gabi competes and performs, and is at the studio almost every day for lessons in tap, jazz and hip-hop as well as ballet, Renfrow said. “She’s extremely dedicated to her art.”

When Gabi received her pointe shoes, Truth365 posted a video showing her patiently strapping on her prosthetic, then rising triumphantly to her toes. As she moves across the floor in her pink satin shoes, Gabi is heard saying, “Live your dreams and don’t ever give up.”

Photo credits: Instagram

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