'A Future with hope': Eicher faces fifth major surgery with optimism

Crescent-News—Pettisville, Ohio—April 30, 2009

Despite spending nearly 30 hours in surgery over the last three years, Libbey Eicher is still looking for relief from her pronounced 45-degree angle curvature of the spine.

The 19-year-old Pettisville woman wears a back brace, lives in constant pain, has difficulty sleeping and tolerates only small portions of food. She is scheduled to go under the knife a fifth time on June 17 at Hospital for Special Surgery in New York City.

Through it all, her positive outlook and faith have been remarkable. She lifts her indomitable spirit with favorite Bible verses, including Jeremiah 29:11.

"Without my faith, I wouldn't have made it this far," said Eicher, third of four daughters of Dave and Sue Eicher. "My future is still unclear, but I know that with God truly all things are possible."

Her medical condition was first discovered at the end of her freshman year in high school, when she decided to start volunteering at the Fulton County Health Center, Wauseon.

"Before beginning, I had to get a physical from my family doctor. That's when I found out I had a mild curvature of the spine (scoliosis)."

Eicher, however, was more focused on an upcoming summer service trip to the Dominican Republic with her church group. She became enamored with the mission work, and when the opportunity arose to return for another four weeks that same summer with one of her friends, she and her parents made it happen.

"That summer was an amazing experience," said Eicher. "It really opened my eyes to the true physical and spiritual needs in this world. People in the Dominican Republic have very little, but what little they have they are willing to share with others."

Within months after returning, Eicher began experiencing lower back and hip pain. She consulted her orthopedic physician, Dr. Richard Munk of Toledo.

"My curve had nearly doubled to a 34-degree curve. That sure surprised me, and a few weeks later I was molded for a back brace. The next month, my curve had progressed to 49 degrees."

Before long, Eicher and her parents began weighing surgical options. In May 2006, she underwent surgery for nine hours followed by nine days of hospitalization.

"Afterwards I was still very hunched forward and unable to flex my lower spine, plus I was in a lot of pain," she said. "A second surgery was scheduled that July, when doctors bent rods in the lower portion of my back to give me natural lower curve again."

Over the ensuing months, her vertebrae at the T-3 level began shifting, making her lean to the right. So a third surgery took place in March 2007, during her junior year in high school.

"This time my doctor extended the rods down one more level in hopes of straightening my spine. After a few weeks I began to be able to stand straight. Everything seemed to be going great over the next six months, but by fall of 2007 my spine began tilting again. Without my brace on, I was leaning far to the right again."

Despite her condition and lost time from surgeries, Eicher remained active at school in FFA and participated in science fair, advancing to state with one of her projects. With the help of some creative wardrobe adjustments, she attended the prom her junior and senior years.

She graduated last May and her fourth surgery took place two months later.

"This time, doctors removed all of the hardware, screws, everything. They were thinking that maybe I had some irritation to the rods which were causing me to lean. But as of today, I'm still in plenty of pain and in my back brace."

Her plight isn't from lack of trying to find a lasting medical solution. She and her parents have been to 14 hospitals in 10 different cities, including Toledo, Cleveland, Columbus, Detroit, Ann Arbor and St. Louis. Three months ago, they flew to New York City to consult with Dr. Oheneba Boachie-Adjei, a world renowned orthopedic surgeon and neurologist.

Boachie-Adjei recommended fusion of her spine to the sacrum, a large, triangular bone at the base of the spine.

"There is a lot of stress on my lower back, which eventually will break down in time if nothing is done," she stated. "Dr. Boachie-Adjei said that by fusing to the sacrum, he could correct the leaning. He's given me renewed hope."

Eicher was accepted into the nursing program at Indiana Wesleyan University for the 2008-09 academic year, but those plans changed after the unsuccessful surgery in July.

"My goal is still to become a missionary nurse," she said. "I'm taking classes at Northwest State Community College."

She continued her volunteer work at the Fulton County Health Center until last December and now works about three half-days weekly as a dietary aide at Fairlawn Haven Nursing Home in Archbold.

The family has already rented a Manhattan apartment for five weeks beginning June 11 in anticipation of her upcoming surgery and recovery period.

"I have met so many nice doctors, nurses and techs of many different specialties," said Eicher. "Dr. Munk has been great from the start. He's taken my case to conventions all over the world."

A spaghetti dinner and bake sale to raise funds for Eicher's medical bills will be held Sunday from 4-6 p.m. at North Clinton Mennonite Church, corner of Shoop (Ohio 108) and Linfoot streets in Wauseon. The event was the brainchild of employees at Smith Restaurant, Wauseon, where Eicher's mother is employed.

"My co-workers are preparing the food and people from the church are providing the desserts and baked goods," said Sue Eicher.

"We appreciate this so much. We've met so many great people during this journey."

Read the story at crescent-news.com.

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