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Jeni

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Jeni's StoryWritten by her father two years after her surgery to correct scoliosis.

June 1985, one month before she turned 13 years old, our daughter, Jeni had surgery to correct the curvature from her spine from scoliosis. Her surgery lasted for 6 hours and she was in the hospital for 9 days after her surgery. Now, 11 years later, the Cotrel-Dubousset procedure takes only 3 1/2 hours and the average hospital stay is 7 days. Jeni is now 25, married, working and has a two year old son. She had a wonderful, problem free pregnancy and delivery.

The following article was written by Bill Bartleman and appeared in The Paducah Sun newspaper on June 21, 1987. copyright: The Paducah Sun

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Fathers Day 1987

by Bill Bartleman

It was Monday, June 3, 1985: the day the 8th graders graduated from Reidland Middle School. I remember now that it was extremely hot in the gymnasium. At the time, however, I didn't think much about the heat.

My mind was wandering when Principal Jim Mitchell called Jeni's name. As she walked across the stage, he mentioned that she was a cheerleader and a member of the Beta Club. He might have said something else, I'm not sure.

When Jeni left the stage, she went through a side door. Carla my wife, and I went out another door and we met in front of the school. We weren't able to stay around to watch Jeni's friends make the same walk across the stage.

We didn't say much as we went to the car. I think Jeni and Carla wanted to cry. They weren't sad about Jeni graduating from the 8th grade. There wasn't time for that. All of us were thinking about the trip we about to make to Norton's Hospital in Louisville, Kentucky.

Jeni was scheduled to have surgery. They were putting steel rods in her back to correct a problem with scoliosis, a disorder which causes a curvature of the spine. Uncorrected, it can cause other health problems and body disfigurement.

It was a relatively new type of surgery, one that the doctor said would not restrict her activity once she recovered. But it also was serious surgery and involved attaching the rods to her spine. One small mistake could leave her crippled.

It was hard thinking about putting a perfectly healthy daughter into the hospital. Although the curve in her back had changed from 18 degrees to 41 degrees in just eight months, you couldn't tell it by looking at her.

As we drove up the Western Kentucky Parkway, I thought about cheerleading and how much it meant to her. I also thought about the gymnastic lessons she had been taking for the last couple of years, and how much she enjoyed learning to do flips, tumbles and other body-twisting stunts. I remembered her younger years, when she would tumble around the living room and the difficulty we had in finding a gymnastics program that actually taught her something.

As we were making the four-hour drive, I wondered if her cheerleading and gymnastic days were over. Only a few days before, she had been named a junior varsity cheerleader at Reidland High School. She was looking forward to that but disappointed because she wasn't going to be able to go to cheer camp or help at a mini-clinic the cheerleaders were hosting the next week.

We arrived at the hospital and got her checked in. Monday night and Tuesday were consumed with tests.

Relatives and our pastor arrived early Wednesday morning. We quietly talked as we waited for the nurse to tell us it was time for Jeni to go to the operating room. I remember how tightly Jeni held my hand as the Rev. Ernest Carpenter said a prayer.

Carla and I stayed at her side as she was rolled down the hallway and to the elevator. I don't think any of us said a word.

We were allowed to go with her into the surgery holding room. A nurse gave her a shot. She still had a tight hold on my hand. My stomach was turning and the odor of medicine in the room made me queasy. As the shot began to take its effect, her grip began to loosen. My queasiness was getting worse and I felt it best that I leave. I gave her a kiss, a hug and told her I loved her.

Once outside, Carla and I could watch her through the swinging door as doctors and nurses went in and out of the room. Her eyes were closed and she was holding tight to "Happy," a stuffed animal that she had with her.

The queasiness was subsiding and I thought I would go back into the room and give her one last kiss. But when the door opened the next time, Jeni was gone. I was left with an empty feeling that I never felt before and haven't felt since.

The next six hours were the longest in my life.

It was about 2 in the afternoon when someone on the speaker called: "Is anyone in there from the Bartleman family?" I answered. She said, "Dr. Johnson wants to see you in the conference room."

You can't imagine the thoughts that went through my mind as I ran down the hallway. Was it over or did some problem develop? My blood pressure probably was at an all-time high. I met Carla in the hallway.

We couldn't find Dr. Johnson in the conference room. He finally came through the swinging door from the room where we had last seen Jeni.

"Everything went just fine." he said. He said Jeni would have to spend the next two days in intensive care, so they could monitor her vital signs and make sure that everything was healing properly.

We could visit her for about 30 minutes every four hours.

They allowed us to go in as soon as she came back from surgery. She was still out. She responded some the second and third times, but she still didn't know we were in the room.

Then, sometime around 2 in the morning, she was awake enough to talk. I remember her sense of humor. Because of the length of the surgery, she was under an anesthetic for six hours. It caused her eyelids to swell. It was difficult for her to open her eyes for more than a wink. She joked about how weird her eyes felt and about not being able to find the straw when we gave her a drink of water.

Later in the morning, she joked about trying to rinse her mouth into a glass being held by a nurse. She said she assumed she hit the glass, because she didn't feel any dampness in her bed.

It was easy to tell she was in pain, but they were giving her shots which helped some.

I only saw tears in her eyes twice. Once was when she was being moved from intensive care to a regular room. The other was when she was hurting and it wasn't time for another pain shot. She asked Carla if she was ever going to be able to do gymnastics or continue as a cheerleader.

But she never cried.

I remember the first day she went to therapy. She had been flat on her back for five days. They laid her on a special table to put her on her feet without bending her back. She had difficulty walking. I thought then that the recovery was going to be worse than the doctor told us.

But her recovery over the next few days was amazing. By Friday, nine days after the surgery, the doctor said we could go home.

She wasn't able to ride sitting up, so we laid a mattress in the back of our station wagon. She rode for four hours, flat on her back. It must have been uncomfortable.

When we arrived in Paducah, she wanted to stop at Reidland High School to see her cheerleader friends, who were hosting the last day of their cheerleading clinic. I remember her slow walk across the parking lot to the gymnasium. I knew she was in pain.

But all signs of pain disappeared and we saw a smile when her fellow cheerleaders ran to meet her. It was a happy reunion, one that made her forget about the four-hour ride in the back of the station wagon.

She smiled again when we arrive at the house. Some of her friends from Oaklawn Baptist Church had put up a "Welcome Home" sign, baked a cake and hung some balloons.

The recovery over the next few weeks continued to amaze Carla and me. I think she took only one or two pain pills after we got home.

By late August, when football season began, she was on the sidelines with the other junior varsity cheerleaders. She wasn't able to jump or flip, but she was there swinging her arms and yelling at the top of her lungs.

The most memorable part of her recovery came in December, a few days after the doctor told her she could resume gymnastic lessons. There was an air of excitement and anticipation as she stood at the end of the mats at Flip's Gymnastics in Reidland and began her run. You could have heard a pin drop as everyone paused to watch.

My eyes still get misty as I vividly recall seeing Jeni, for the first time in six months, run down the mat and do a flip. It was something we took for granted just a few months before. That day, it meant something special. I can still hear the ovation she received from the parents and her friends who were there that afternoon.

Jeni's accomplishment, hard work and bravery of the last seven months of 1985 meant more that if she had won a gold medal in the Olympics.

I still remember that she didn't cry.

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