When Bridget Souriyamath was 15 years old, the pain radiating down her neck and into her shoulders and arms was frightening enough. But the fear escalated when the accomplished Irish dancer learned she had a cervical spine bone tumor and needed surgery.
Proceeds from this year’s Geno Auriemma Fore the Kids Charity Golf Tournament will equip Connecticut Children’s with a new spine surgery table that will benefit patients facing complex spine surgeries and, ultimately, help kids and teens—like Bridget—achieve their dreams.
A Nightmare Unfolding
In 2016, Bridget’s dreams were interrupted by a medical nightmare. At the time, she was a high school athlete and competitive Irish dancer, when the pain that ran down her neck and into her arms began to worsen. “The weight of my head became too much for me to hold it up,” she recalled. “I woke up two or three times every single night. It was awful.”
At first, doctors suspected a disc issue, and Bridget was referred to Jeffrey Thomson, MD, an orthopedic surgeon and Division Head of Orthopedics at Connecticut Children’s. At her next appointment, Bridget met with both Dr. Thomson and Jonathan Martin, MD, a neurosurgeon at Connecticut Children’s.
Diagnosed with a benign bone tumor in her cervical spine, Bridget learned that the pain she was experiencing was due to an osteoma located on the C4 vertebra at the base of her neck.
According to Dr. Thomson, about 11 percent of benign bone tumors are osteoid osteomas. “The tumor is benign—not cancerous—but it is classically painful and keeps the person up at night, so sleeping is difficult,” he explained.
“Although primary bone tumors involving the spine are unusual, osteoid osteomas are among the more common benign bone tumors,” said Dr. Martin, who was recently named The Paul M. Kanev, MD, Endowed Chair of Pediatric Neurosurgery at Connecticut Children’s. “The joint Orthopedic-Neurosurgery Spine Program at Connecticut Children’s typically treats three to five patients annually for these lesions.”
“Surgery is necessary if it is near the spinal cord, which was the case for the Bridget,” Dr. Thomson explained.
Golfers “Tee It Up” for Connecticut Children’s
Because so many childhood dreams can be interrupted by medical issues requiring surgery and specialty care, avid golfers from across the region will be “teeing it up” with Hall of Fame Coach Geno Auriemma on June 24 at Hartford Golf Club in West Hartford.
Over the past 16 years, the tournament has raised more than $1.6 million for Connecticut Children’s, including $270,000 raised in 2018 for the new Infusion Center in Farmington and for a new portable, low-dose, imaging technology called the Orthoscan Mini C-Arm. The system provides surgeons with real-time feedback and reduces patient recovery times.
This year, in addition to funding the purchase of a new transport isolette–a self-contained, high performance transport incubator to be used by Connecticut Children’s Neonatal Intensive Care Unit—proceeds from the 17th annual event will fund the purchase of a highly specialized spinal surgery table for patients undergoing complex spine surgeries.
“The table is very versatile so we can do many different types of operations on it,” Dr. Thomson said. “Between Orthopedics and Neurosurgery, we do over 100 spine case per year. We find it very useful for spine cases and lower-extremity trauma cases.”
Dr. Thomson noted that the spine table is long enough to accommodate bigger kids and is radiolucent, so that x-rays can be taken through the table. “It gives us 360-degree access to the patient,” he said.
Surgery & A Quick Recovery
On Sept. 15, 2016, Bridget underwent cervical spine surgery at Connecticut Children’s on a similar table. The procedure took less than two hours to complete, and she missed seven days of school. Three-and-a-half-weeks later, she learned that she could resume her normal activities at her own pace, which immediately led her back to Irish dance.
“There were no restrictions and there was no more pain,” she said.
“Bridget had a very quick recovery, which was due to Dr. Martin’s excellent technique,” Dr. Thomson said, “but it was also due to her physical fitness prior to surgery. People who are more physically fit prior to surgery will recover faster than those who are not. Her wonderful attitude also helped her recover quickly.”
Bridget, who had been taking Irish dance lessons for 12 years prior, competed in the McInerney Championship Feis (pronounced “fesh”) in Worcester, Mass., on October 29, 2016, and took first place in her age group—six weeks after surgery at Connecticut Children’s.
Achieving Her Dreams
Since then, Bridget, the 17-year-old daughter of Erin and Sith Souriyamath, has continued to compete in Irish dance competitions, placing 19th in the New England Oireachtas (pronounced “o-rach-tas”) last November and qualifying for nationals in Vancouver in 2019. And in April 2019, she placed third in the New England Regional Championships. “Everything has been good,” Bridget said. “My neck has been great.”
The 2019 Old Saybrook High School graduate recently completed a successful senior year in which she taught Irish dance class as part of her senior project. “We did 11 performances on St. Patrick’s Day,” said Bridget, who had been teaching two different classes of children ranging in age from 5 to 14. “I also wrote a research paper on Irish dance and found that it is good for your well-being,” she said.
This summer, Bridget will be teaching a dance class through the Parks & Rec Department in her hometown.
In addition to her love of Irish dance, Bridget’s dream—shaped by her personal experience—includes a career path into the medical field. She recently completed a two-year internship at a local hospital, where she has been shadowing physician assistants, clocking nearly 150 hours toward her career goal.
She will attend Seton Hall University this fall, where she plans to pursue a dual-degree—a Bachelor of Science in Biology and a Master of Science in Physician Assistant studies. Bridget said she even wrote her college essay on her medical journey and her amazing return to dance six weeks after cervical spine surgery. “My whole neck surgery has fully inspired me to go into the medical profession,” she said.
As she looks forward to fulfilling her dreams, Bridget says she and her family are thankful for the care she received at Connecticut Children’s. “The doctors here are wonderful,” she said. “They have truly changed my entire life.”
You don’t have to be a golfer to support Geno Auriemma’s Fore the Kids Golf Tournament. If you would like to contribute toward a new spinal surgery table to benefit children undergoing complex spine surgeries at Connecticut Children’s, or support a new transport isolette for the NICU, please visit give.connecticutchildrens.org/geno.