GLOVERSVILLE - When she was younger, friends used to joke with Jenn Sprung that she "walked like a duck. " During her freshman season on the Gloversville High School field hockey team, an injury revealed her slightly unusual gait was no laughing matter.
"I was at field hockey practice, jogging, and I felt this really sharp pain run down my leg," she said. "I was almost in tears, it hurt so bad."
Doctors determined she had bilateral hip dysplasia, a congenital condition in which both her hip joints were not shaped correctly. This put an end to her sports career, but she emerged from the ordeal that followed with a desire to help other young people going through health crises.
Gloversville High School junior Jenn Sprung is shown outside the school recently with her mother, Kelly. Jenn underwent surgeries to correct hip dysplasia at Boston Children’s Hospital in 2010 and 2011.
(The Leader-Herald/Bill Ackerbauer)
Sprung first saw her pediatrician, Dr. Govind C. Rao of Amsterdam, then went to Dr. James A. Slavin, an orthopedic surgeon in Troy, before being refered to Dr. Young-Jo Kim, director of the Child and Adult Hip Preservation Program at Boston Children's Hospital. Kim determined she needed to undergo two surgeries - one to repair each hip joint. Her first operation in Boston took place Nov. 22, 2010.
"We spent Thanksgiving in the hospital," said Jenn's mother, Kelly Sprung. "It was very scary to see her hooked up to all those IVs."
After coming home from Boston, Kelly said, Jenn's recovery was tough for both of them and for her father, Daniel, and her twin brother, Kevin.
She was on "major pain medication" for several weeks, and because she couldn't go up and down stairs, she slept downstairs in a hospital-style bed.
In April 2011, she went through the whole procedure again for her other hip, but this time she felt like an old pro.
"Everything about it seemed easier since I had done it before," she says in an article about her experience published online by the Boston Children's Hospital.
Jenn did physical therapy for several weeks at the Community Physical Therapy & Wellness Center in Gloversville.
"I basically had to learn to walk again," she said.
In patients with hip dysplasia, Dr. Kim explained, the hip socket is too shallow, causing too much mechanical stress on the joint.
"The labrum, which is like a cushion around the socket, can tear," Kim said. "They can have severe pain."
In the surgical procedure Sprung underwent twice, Kim explained, he broke apart the hip joint and reconstructed it with long titanium screws. He said this sort of surgery has been done at Boston Children's Hospital since 1994.
"The surgery itself is not commonly done at many places because it's a fairly involved procedure," he said.
Kim said Jenn is now fully recovered from the surgeries, and while it's hard to predict whether she will suffer from arthritis or other joint trouble later in life, her rebuilt hips should function more or less like normal joints.
Not wanting to risk further injury to her newly fixed hips, she has decided not to return to field hockey.
"I just had this huge operation, and I don't want to do something to damage it," she said. Instead of athletics, she now focuses her energy on a number of clubs and activities, such as Key Club, the Sources of Strength mentoring program and the yearbook.
"And stressing about my grades and the SATs," she said.
Her experiences traveling to Boston - she and her parents made the trip about 15 times - have inspired her see more of the world after high school.
Now a 16-year-old junior at GHS, she is looking forward to going to college and studying to become a physician's assistant specializing in pediatric oncology, a field in which she might be able to comfort children going through health challenges of their own.
"I had these surgeries so I could get out there and enjoy life," she says in article on the hospital website. "So that's what I'm doing."