Hannah's Story

3 November 2022

Hannah in hospital

Expected time to read: 3 minutes

A painful spinal condition couldn’t stop Hannah from chasing her dream to swim for Australia at the Paralympics.

It was Hannah’s mum who first noticed something unusual about the way she was walking while on a family holiday.

After a visit to their local GP, Hannah was sent to see paediatric Orthopaedic Specialist, Dr Angus Gray at Sydney Children’s Hospital, Randwick. She was diagnosed with scoliosis, a curvature of the spine that cast a shadow on her dream of swimming for Australia.  

In 2017, Hannah had rods inserted in her back to help support and straighten her spine. The procedure was followed by a long and uncomfortable recovery, as she explains.

Hannah's back after surgery
An x-ray of Hannah's spine

“I woke up to the feeling of not being able to move my arms and legs. I was quite depressed because it was not what I was expecting. I also had to adapt to rods and screws all the way down my spine, which was really difficult.”

Hannah after surgery

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Thankfully Hannah was able to get back in the pool soon after the operation, which helped significantly with her rehabilitation. 

After her surgery, Hannah needed monthly x-rays to make sure everything was healing properly. It was an experience she says she soon came to dread. 

“At the time, there was this machine where they put weights around your stomach to move you around. It was just such an uncomfortable experience.”   

Things went from bad to worse when Hannah noticed a lump at the top of her spine a year and a half after her surgery. 

“An x-ray showed that my rod had actually slipped off my spine and started to pierce through my skin. It was excruciating. 

“I broke into tears because I remembered the pain after my first surgery. I remembered the progress I had made and how much effort I had to put into my recovery, knowing I had to do all that again.”

Hannah laying in a hospital bed

Thankfully, the second time around Hannah’s clinicians had access to a game-changing new piece of equipment called an EOS Imaging Suite that helped make her recovery a whole lot easier. 

The suite has the ability to simultaneously take full-body, frontal and side x-ray images of a patient and with the new technology means they can sit or stand, making their experience quicker and more comfortable while also using significantly less radiation than traditional X-rays or CT scans. 

This extraordinary x-ray machine was funded by Sargent's Pies Foundation, a very generous donor of Sydney Children’s Hospitals Foundation.. 

In FY20/21, thanks to the generosity of all of our supporters – big and small –Sydney Children’s Hospitals Foundation was able to fund 775 vital pieces of equipment that helps ensure sick kids like Hannah continue to receive the best possible care, now and into the future. 

“The second time was a much better experience because of that new machine. I got to stand in a comfortable position, in this big tube-looking thing and it was done. No painful weights. It was the quickest and easiest process ever. 

“The support and atmosphere at the hospital also made the whole experience so much better. I wouldn’t be where I am today without the team there.” 

With the success of her second operation, Hannah once again has her sights set on paralympic glory.

Hannah competing in backstroke

“I’ve had to make a few changes along the way,” she says. “I’ve had to switch from endurance to sprint events because I physically can’t last as long. And I’m now competing as a para rather than able-bodied athlete.

Hannah with a medal at a swimming event
Hannah swimming at an event

“But I’m enjoying swimming as much as ever and I’ve still got my heart set on representing Australia. My goal is the 2024 Paralympics in Paris.” 

For now, Hannah is looking forward to a quiet and relaxing Christmas with family. 

“A few years ago, I spent Christmas recovering from operations, and I wasn’t able to get around much. That made it even more important to me to be around family at that time. That’s what I’m most looking forward to this year.”  

This festive season, Hannah’s sharing her story in the hopes it will inspire our community of unstoppable changemakers, like you, to help other kids on their road to recovery.

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