Sixteen year-old Isabella Cottone has a favorite doctor. He’s not just any doctor. Without his care, say Isabella’s parents, she probably would not be walking unassisted today. Over the past decade, Isabella, who has cerebral palsy, has had multiple surgeries on her legs and hips. Today she is a happy teenager, and her parents credit Dr. David Scher, a pediatric orthopedic surgeon at Hospital for Special Surgery, with helping their daughter enjoy life without limitations.
Before meeting Dr. Scher, Dawn and Sean Cottone worried about their daughter’s future. When Isabella was four years old, numerous doctors told them she would likely never walk.
But they refused to take no for an answer. Dawn, who has a medical background as a physician assistant, and her husband took to the Internet to search for someone who could help their daughter. They found HSS and Dr. Scher, who specializes in surgery for people with cerebral palsy.
Over the years, Dr. Scher has performed four procedures to straighten Isabella’s legs, and this has enabled her to walk normally. “Dr. Scher inspired confidence from day one. He’s an outstanding surgeon,” Dawn says. “If you saw Isabella’s legs before surgery, you wouldn’t think it was the same person.”
Today Isabella engages in the usual activities that teenagers enjoy. She walks around Manhattan with her friends from school. She took a dance class and plans to start yoga. She rides the subway and the bus.
Life Without Limitations
Dr. Scher often told Isabella she could accomplish almost anything, and she put that theory to the test on an adaptive ski trip to Windham Mountain this year. Sponsored by the Adaptive Sports Academy at HSS, specially trained instructors at Windham provided a lesson and adapted equipment as needed for the young people with disabilities.
To Isabella’s delight, Dr. Scher showed up to ski with his patients. “The trip was fun,” Isabella recalls. “I brought cookies for Dr. Scher. He’s my favorite person.”
Knowing that her doctor has a predilection for rainbow cookies, Isabella stopped off at the Italian bakery in her Staten Island neighborhood to pick up the pastries before the trip. She also brings the tricolor confection whenever she has an appointment with him.
Dr. Scher, who enjoys skiing, says he went on the trip to encourage the children and teenagers and cheer them on. He skied alongside some of his patients and took photos and videos to capture their enjoyment. “For Isabella and the other kids, it’s a fun and novel experience, an opportunity to be outside, to get the feeling of using their body in a different way,” he says. “For some, it’s the first time they experience that feeling of going fast down a hill, and it’s exhilarating for them.”
Dr. Scher says it’s satisfying and rewarding to see that he’s helped make a difference in patients’ lives. “It’s fun to interact with the kids and their parents and to see their happiness,” he says, “and to know that I’ve connected them to the other staff at HSS – physical therapists, child life specialists, supporters of the pediatrics division – who’ve made this possible. I’m privileged to be a part of it.”
“He’s so good with the kids, I’ve never met a doctor like him,” says Dawn, who has known plenty of doctors during her career as a physician assistant. “What surgeon goes skiing with his patients? He clearly loves what he does.”
True, it’s not every day that a doctor goes on a ski trip with patients who have cerebral palsy. But then, it’s not every day that a doctor and a hospital offer hope for the most challenging medical problems, come up with innovative solutions, and provide the expertise that enables patients to live life to the fullest.