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Finding the Beautiful Swan Within

Scoliosis surgery 43 years ago gave Shari a future she has embraced

The year was 1979, and Shari was a shattered 11-year-old girl.

With a spine curved so severely by scoliosis that she struggled to lift her head to look forward, she was the target of her classmates’ abuse.

“I would get kicked. I would get spit on,” she said, struggling to hold back tears even 43 years later. “They said I looked like a monster. I guess I really did.”

But then Shriners Hospitals for Children — St. Louis entered her life via a scoliosis screening at Grand View Middle School near her Ware, Missouri, home. Though they were doctors and nurses who visited, Shari calls them by another name: “My angels.”

Within two weeks, Michael Winer, M.D., performed major surgery to straighten Shari’s spine. He inserted two rods, hardware she carries to this day. A year in a body cast followed.

Life changed.

“I went from being an ugly duckling to a beautiful swan,” she said recently from her home in St. Louis while recovering from COVID-19. “I became popular. I did so many things. I played volleyball. I got so involved.”

Even more than that, she lived.

“If those angels hadn’t come to my school that day, I would be dead by now,” she said. Indeed, scoliosis can cause life-ending damage to internal organs, especially the lungs, and though Shari didn’t come away unscathed, she lives life with few limitations.

Now she wants to give back. While watching the recent Heroes 4 Kids telethon coverage on KMOV, tears flowed freely. She called the hospital, asking if she could volunteer. Because of COVID-19, volunteers can’t come to the hospital, but Shari wants to start spreading a message of hope to current and future patients.

“I want them to know it’s OK to be afraid,” she said. “But look at me. Look at my scars. It won’t be easy. But you will be OK.”

And so she plans to be one of the first in the door when the hospital re-opens to volunteers. She wants to talk to kids who are about to have surgery, to support them as they recover. She wants to be a part of the Shriners Hospitals way of doing things.

“Everyone was so warm to me when I was there. It was a team effort. Yes, it was a long time ago, but it’s something I’ll never forget,” she said. “I’m living proof that Shriners Hospitals saves lives.”

Shari fishing

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