EVEN NOW, Chandler Bragg occasionally senses people being somewhat overcautious around her.
But she has a quick response to those who wonder if her surgically-altered spine can hold up.
“I’m like, ‘yes, I’m fine. I’m made of titanium,” the 15-year-old Bragg said.
The three-sport athlete at Jefferson has competed with a fused spine for two years, undergoing major surgery back in July 2010 to correct an extreme case of idiopathic scoliosis.
The very-active Bragg plans to participate in basketball, track and cross country or volleyball this coming school year as she continues to adjust to life with a spine that now has two titanium rods and 23 screws.
Her unique spine limits her in a lot of little ways in everyday life, but she’s persevered through the change and continued her sports career.
“Really, she hasn’t ever tried to use it as an excuse,” Bragg’s father, Andy, said. “It’s really a non-issue.”
Bragg was first diagnosed with idiopathic scoliosis in sixth grade. She wore a Providence Nighttime Brace for two years and went through physical therapy, but spinal-fusion surgery was unavoidable.
Her spine resembled a backwards “S” on x-rays and her ribs would actually hit her hip when she ran. In fact, Bragg’s spine curved so drastically that it started to compress her lungs, liver and kidneys.
Though needed, surgery was still a very scary reality.
“I was very scared because all I could think about was sports, really,” Bragg said. “And, obviously, I was scared if something went wrong.”
Her father called the thought of spinal-fusion surgery “horrifying.”
“It was probably the most horrifying thing I’ve ever experienced in my life,” the older Bragg said. “She wasn’t old enough to make that decision, and unfortunately, in this day and age of technology, this particular surgery can only be done by cutting the child, in this case, open.”
Bragg’s mother, Gina, echoed those statements.
“This was one of those heart-wrenching decisions as a parent,” she said in an email. “So permanent. We didn’t enter into it lightly. Lots of prayer and a couple of medical opinions later, it was something that had to be done.”
During the four-and-a-half hour surgery, doctors had to de-rotate Bragg’s spine, put it in the right position and hold it there while screwing in the two titanium rods.
Chandler went into the surgery at 5’2” but came out at 5’4” with the straightened back.
Afterwards, Bragg was apprehensive about the recovery process — and what it meant for her sports career — but meticulously followed the instructions of her surgeon, Dr. Timothy Oswald. He assured her that she’d be back on the athletic field if she did as ordered.
Sure enough, Bragg returned to the basketball court in just five months (one month ahead of schedule).
Still people were cautious, like Bragg’s eighth grade basketball coach, Taryn Gurley, on her first day back.
“She was like, ‘Chandler is going to play with us today. But if you put one finger on her or push her or touch her, somebody is going to be running suicides,” Bragg said.
But Bragg didn’t miss any games during her eighth grade basketball season.
After entering high school last year, Bragg participated in basketball and track her as a freshman. On the court, she played well enough to dress out with the varsity and even get on the floor. Then, this past month, she proved to be one of the top young players in the Lady Dragon lineup in summer scrimmages.
“Chandler is a wonderful young lady,” Jefferson girls’ basketball coach Jason Gibson said. “She’s really developed into a good little player. I think she’s got a lot of potential and I think she’s just now scratching the surface.”
Bragg lists basketball as her favorite sport right now and aims to be a four-year varsity player and “to have one of the records out there on the wall.” She also hopes to study journalism in college to become a sports broadcaster one day.
“I really enjoy, not only playing sports, but watching them,” Bragg said.
Today, Bragg says she doesn’t feel that drastically different with her titanium-supported back. The main difference is that she can’t bend in her torso, only in her hips. There are also a few quirks with the nerves in her back because of the surgery. For example, when she’s scratched on the left shoulder, she feels it in her lower right back.
She even still feels some muscle and nerve pain. So, obviously, there’s a physical challenge post-surgery. But most of it is mental Bragg said.
“You have to find a new normal,” she said.
And that’s what Bragg wants to share with others.
She’d like to mentor kids who might be battling scoliosis and facing spine fusion surgery (Bragg has already counseled a girl a few years younger faced with the same situation).
Through her ordeal, she believes she has some wisdom she can pass on.
“They may think that you’re not going to be able to do much after your surgery and everything is going to be so much harder, but I just want to be an example to them, that it’s not and you can do anything you want,” Bragg said.
3 sport athlete? Jefferson encourages their kids to play multi sports and Jefferson is successful. Take note jackson county. I have had it with my son being told to play 1 sport at jc. Time to move to Jefferson.