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Cerebral Palsy

What Defines a Superhero?

It is graduation season, a time for celebration and joy as people complete one phase of education, and possibly head to another. We are so proud to celebrate 39-year-old Samantha Lademann’s graduation from Normandale Community College. 

Jennifer Laine, MD, helped Samantha walk across the stage to accept her diploma. It was a fitting moment because Samantha says Laine is the orthopedic surgeon who sat with her during an appointment and encouraged her to return to school. 

What Laine didn’t realize as she helped Samantha accept her diploma is that Samantha was carrying a notecard in her pocket that held a powerful quote Laine delivered when they met years ago. It said, “You are not helpless, this is not hopeless. We have work to do. Let’s go.” 

Samantha says the quote got her through multiple surgeries to help her walk, and it helped her complete her journey at Normandale Community College. Now, Samantha is moving forward with plans to get her bachelor's degree. 

It’s been five years since Samantha initially told us what she thinks defines a superhero. She continues to prove that real-life superheroes may not wear capes, but they definitely uplift those around them.

Here is Samantha's original story:

Heroes have the ability to fight monsters. Some save lives and some change them. But if you ask me, true heroes aren't the ones that leap tall buildings in a single bound and fly. They don't have X-ray vision or wear capes. They are everyday people who touch others’ lives in incredible ways whether they know it or not.

The people who possess these powers are rare. They have the ability to look at you and see beyond all of the things on the surface to the person underneath. They help you learn to breathe again, and to find your voice. Standard rules don’t exist for these heroes and heroines who take a frightened hand and help pull you through the fire. Sometimes the fire burns, but these heroes and heroines shield you, enough to help you through without too many wounds from your journey through the flames. 

Samantha Lademann came to Gillette for help addressing problems caused by cerebral palsy.

Samantha at the Minnesota Children's Museum with her nephew and niece.

Meeting My Heroes

At the risk of sounding cliché, I can say that I have been and am currently walking through the flames—a result of orthopedic issues caused by cerebral palsy. The difference is, I am walking side-by-side with my two heroines: Jennifer Laine, MD, and Carrie Kennedy. There is no amount of words to compensate for the time, energy, encouragement and love that Dr. Laine and Carrie show me.   

Dr. Laine, my orthopedic surgeon at Gillette Children’s, has given me an incredible chance not once or twice but three times. Where other physicians would have walked away, she took on the challenge of "fixing me" as my nephew says. In early 2015, I returned from vacation with a knee injury that needed surgical correction. However, if it was to be successful, I had to lose significant weight. It took eight months of preparation before I was ready for the procedure.  

Afterwards, I was sent to a Transitional Care Unit (TCU) for rehabilitation, where I would remain for almost four months. A TCU is a hard place to be when you're 33 and 50+ years younger than the average patient. The thought of going outside the Gillette system was terrifying. 

Samantha, who has cerebral palsy, is beloved by her niece, nephew, family and friends.

Samantha celebrates her recent birthday with family (left) and friends (right).

Becoming ‘Supergirl’

Carrie Kennedy was my TCU nurse on that first day and would be in the many days to come. She's different.  I saw it within five minutes of meeting her. Carrie's broken down the wall I had put up as a form of self-preservation. An instant, powerful connection formed and exists between us.  

Carrie taught and continues to teach me to keep my head up no matter what, to keep moving forward regardless of what life throws my way, and that vulnerability does not mean weak. Most of all Carrie has made me realized that I hold the power to do, achieve, and be anything I regardless of my cerebral palsy.   As she once told me—and this is applicable to every Gillette patient—"You are not a MASTER of your destiny, you ARE your destiny." Carrie began calling me Supergirl, but she wasn’t the first!  My grandpa Michael first christened me Supergirl during my stay in the neonatal intensive care unit when I was first born.

In September of 2016, following another surgery under Dr. Laine's expert care, I returned to the same TCU. That December, I was scheduled for a follow-up at Gillette. I wanted to make Dr. Laine proud and was thrilled to surprise her with the progress I’d made. This appointment is one that none of us will forget. Carrie came with me—on her own time. I walked (yes walked!) down that clinic hallway—first with both crutches

Jennifer Laine, MD, and Samantha. 

Emerging From the Flames

As I walked back to the exam room it was as though I had come full circle. I made it through the proverbial "flames." I remember thinking: "I wouldn't be here without these two women. Dr. Laine pushed me harder, longer and further than any physician ever has. Carrie wouldn't let me quit. She built me back up time after time and loves me for me. They are the true Supergirls.

Having someone walk into your life when you least expect it, work their magic, and in doing so completely change you forever, is rare.  When it does happen it is something to be treasured and held onto with both hands. Had I not met Dr. Laine and Carrie, each when I needed them most, I know that I wouldn’t be writing this piece today. I would essentially still be non-ambulatory, extremely overweight, and miserable.

Recently we've begun addressing issues with my other leg, which is now causing me problems. Dr. Laine assures me we will get to the bottom of this and fix it. I believe her. And Carrie? Well, as she put it, "I'm still in your corner Supergirl." Thank goodness for that! My family calls us the dynamic duo.

Samantha Lademann has undergone major orthopedic surgeries at Gillette in recent years.

Carrie Kennedy, Samantha's nurse and friend, is one of Samantha's two superheroes.

Strength, Love and Unsung Heroes

Dr. Laine and Carrie have more patience, more compassion than I have ever known in my life. My Supergirls protect me, but also guide the growth into who I, hopefully, will one day be.

Oftentimes, the real heroes in our lives are the people that slip by unseen for far too long. They’re the people who spend their days doing for others, even when they receive nothing in return, or when what they do receive isn't nearly enough.  Dr. Laine and Carrie exemplify this. I’ve never understood the ways of the world quite enough to know why they aren't millionaires, lying on private islands spending the days basking in the sun by now, but I do know that I have quite a few things to thank them for. 

Hopefully in some small way this comes close. 

Samantha credits her superheroes and family for supporting her during treatment for cerebral palsy.

Samantha snuggles with her nephew.