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Shriners Children’s Patient Emmy Becomes a Professional NBA Dancer

Thanks to orthopedic surgery at Shriners Children's, Emmy is a professional NBA dancer for the Sacramento Kings!

“It all seems so crazy,” said 19-year-old Emmy, who was born with discoid meniscus. “I never thought I’d be dancing now, especially not for the NBA!”

Thanks to five years of excellent care at Shriners Children’s Northern California, Emmy is the youngest member of the Sacramento Kings Dance Team, performing in front of thousands of roaring fans during Kings home games.

The Golden One Center is the stadium the Kings call home and is just 5 miles from Shriners Children’s Northern California, a place Emmy called home while receiving care. Emmy credits her current success to the two knee surgeries, hours of physical therapy and endless encouragement she received from Shriners Children’s staff. She said the team helped lead her away from pain toward performance on the hardwood court.

Born with a Rare Condition

Discoid meniscus is a rare condition where the C-shaped pad of cartilage in the knee that acts as a shock absorber is instead oval or disc-shaped. In Emmy’s case, the meniscus was thicker than usual and not attached, so it did not stay in place.

Emmy cried often as a baby, which her parents, Jake and Traci, initially chalked up to fussiness. One day when changing her diaper, Jake heard her knees making a clicking sound. Then they both realized something was very different for Emmy that they had not noticed when her older brother Chad was a baby. This began their journey to get her the care she needed.

Never Giving Up

Emmy had her first knee surgery when she was 2, followed by additional surgeries at ages 4, 6 and 8. However, her knees still hurt. This was a difficult time period for Emmy. Surgeons and doctors said her knees looked healed and they struggled to find medical explanations for her pain. Ultimately, they determined that there was nothing else they could do, which was a devastating thing to hear for an active young girl.

Her unrelenting pain continued and her parents looked everywhere to find specialized treatment options for their daughter. Emmy had a fifth surgery when she was 10 years old. Sadly, again it didn’t make much of a difference.

By the time she was 12, the pain was getting unbearable. Emmy's doctors wrote her off and her self-confidence was waning. Emmy feared she would never be able to do the one thing she loved most in life ever again – dance. Her mom had enrolled her in her first dance class when she was 4, and she danced through the pain her entire life. But there came a point when the pain was forcing her to step away from dance more and more as time progressed.

Her parents, however, didn’t believe the doctors and were not ready to let their daughter give up her hopes and dreams. They decided to speak with one more surgeon, who immediately referred Emmy to Shriners Children’s Northern California.

“My mom had heard of Shriners Children’s, but she thought they were only for kids who didn’t have insurance, and it’s not, it’s for any kid who needs their help,” said Emmy. “And, they have some of the best surgeons in the world.”

I wouldn’t be dancing right now without Shriners Children’s, physically or emotionally.
Emmy, Northern California

Transformative, Life Changing Care

Emmy said her first visit with sports medicine orthopedic surgeon Brian Haus, M.D., was a relief.

“Dr. Haus spent hours reviewing my charts. He didn’t take my disease lightly. He said, ‘I don’t see anything wrong, but you are in pain, so I want to do exploratory surgery,’” Emmy said.

That surgery was supposed to take 30 minutes, but Dr. Haus discovered the previous surgeries had left Emmy with virtually no meniscus. He left the operating room to go talk to Traci and Jake in the waiting area, and recommended corrective surgery on the right knee while Emmy was already under anesthesia. Emmy’s parents agreed and she was in the operating room for another four hours.

Emmy spent a week as an inpatient at Shriners Children’s while on the road to recovery.

“I was feeling really down,” Emmy said. “But then I started working with the physical therapists who made it really fun. They made a really painful experience a really happy one, somehow. And seeing other kids recovering alongside me and watching them get better really helped,” Emmy said. “Not only was my knee getting better, but so was my soul. It was so motivating.”

After a year of ongoing physical therapy to recover from surgery on her right knee, Emmy had her seventh surgery to improve the same issue in her left knee. She spent another week as an inpatient and felt even more at home the second time around, thanks to a compassionate, multidisciplinary care team.

“It’s so weird to say that being at a hospital was a great experience, but it really was,” said Emmy. “Before, I felt like I wasn’t good enough, I was so insecure, but Shriners Children’s taught me that we are all unique, that you should embrace what you have, in a very good way.”

A Dream Come True

Emmy remembers how Shriners Children’s staff would constantly encourage and support her chasing her dreams of dancing again. Emmy recovered from her two surgeries, graduated high school and is now a professional NBA dancer for the Sacramento Kings.

“It feels surreal. I keep pinching myself. I never would have thought I’d be dancing for the NBA,” said Emmy. “The Sacramento Kings Dance Team is very welcoming, and my coach is so understanding of my situation. If the team does a move I can’t do, she creates a move that I can do, the team showcases what I have and embraces it.”

A Bright Future

Emmy will eventually need meniscus transplant surgery, but remains focused on her career as a professional NBA dancer for now. She’s also thinking about how she can give back to Shriners Children’s and the children we serve.

“I wouldn’t be dancing right now without Shriners Children’s, physically or emotionally,” said Emmy. “I’m here because they kept telling me I could dance again. They gave me my life back. It really is such a magical place.”

Shriners Children’s Patient Emmy Becomes a Professional NBA Dancer

View Transcript


My name is Emmy, and I'm a patient at Shriners Children's Hospital. Because of what they've done for me, I am now dancing professionally in the NBA for the Sacramento Kings.

I came to Shriners Children's Hospital in the eighth grade. I was diagnosed at age of two with discoid meniscus disease. Basically, my meniscus was too big for my knee, and I needed to cut it down and just secure it, and Shriners Children's Hospital did that for me.

I've danced my whole life since I was four years old. Shriners really gave me that purpose again. Now I can dance and be pain-free at the same time. They literally fixed me. Before Shriners, they told me I wasn't going to be able to dance, or I shouldn't dance, and now I'm living my best life and dancing professionally, which I never thought I'd be able to do right now.

Really, the physical therapy team at Shriners helped me. They really pushed me. Just every single time I went to physical therapy, it was like mental therapy for me because they're so happy, and they just really uplift you, and motivate you to keep on going and pushing through.

There's no hospital like Shriners. They really care for every single patient there and their families, and they want you to have the best time there. My favorite thing at Shriners Children's Hospital I would say is just the staff caring about every single patient there. Not a single patient goes unnoticed. I feel like they really just care and want the best for the patients. Trying to make your time there the best that it can be, even though it's at a hospital, but it truly is such a magical place. It's like the Disneyland of hospitals.

I just want to thank everyone. They gave me my life back. Now I'm doing so much more than I ever thought I could do, and it's all thanks to Shriners Children's Hospital. Thank you, Shriners.

New Knees, New Opportunity

Dr. Haus found the answers Emmy was searching for and performed life-changing surgery on her knees, giving her new opportunity in life.

Emmy visits patients at the hospital, signs with text reading "We love the Sacramento Kings," Shriners Children's logo, Sacramento Kings logo

Emmy visits patients at the hospital with the Sacramento Kings dance team to cheer them up!

emmy interacts with patients

Emmy interacts with a patient in the activity area of the hospital.

emmy with the Sacramento dance team, Shriners Children's Northern California logo, We love the Sacramento Kings sign, Sacramento Kings logo

Emmy and the Sacramento Kings dance team pose for a photo in front of the hospital after their special visit with patients and families.

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