Young Woman Gains Inches, Self Confidence
MICHEL MARTIN, host:
We're going to turn now to a very different story about a childhood challenge, this one from the pages of the Washington Post Magazine, which we peruse just about every week for interesting stories about the way we live now.
In the course of growing up, a lot of kids wish they could change something about themselves. Certainly many wish they were bigger or taller. But Caitlin Schroeder's concern was at a whole other level. At 13 years old, she couldn't reach the kitchen sink, and that's when Caitlin made the very difficult decision to undergo a painful and lengthy surgical procedure that would add some five and a half inches to her legs.
She's here with me now in our Washington studio along with her mother, Jennifer Anduha, to tell us about it. Thank you both so much for joining us.
Ms. CAITLIN SCHROEDER: Thank you. It's nice to be here.
MARTIN: Caitlin, I hope it's not sexist of me to point this out, but you are a lovely young lady.
Ms. SCHROEDER: Thank you.
MARTIN: Very lovely and petite. And a lot of people think being a petite blonde is just the thing, just the ticket in life, you know, a size zero. What could be so terrible? So can you just describe what it was about your stature that made life hard?
Ms. SCHROEDER: Well, I went through most of my life with people always thinking I was much younger than I was. And people just treat you differently. They treat you like you're maybe seven when you're about 10, and they don't treat you with as much respects that comes with that. So I never felt like that was a good thing. And then you have these challenges in life - not being able to reach certain things, not being able to do certain things for yourself just because you have that height disability.
MARTIN: Jennifer, Caitlin was born with - what is it? Hypochondraplasia?
Ms. JENNIFER ANDUHA: Yes.
MARTIN: Do I have that right?
Ms. ANDUHA: Yes. Yes, you do.
MARTIN: It's a form of dwarfism. Can you explain what that is for people who don't know?
Ms. ANDUHA: Well, hypochondraplasia is what most people would consider a milder form of achondroplasia, which is what most people think of as a traditional dwarf. And I hate to put it that way, but they're - but that's how most people think of it. There's 200 types of hypochondraplasia or achondroplasia. And Caitlin's form, we thought, was very mild. She had shortened legs and shortened arms. And when we first saw Dr. Paley(ph), she was about three years old and her - what they thought her height was going to be by taking x-rays and measuring her bones was probably going to be about 4' 8". That's what they thought her - her target height...
MARTIN: Her adult height would be.
Ms. ANDUHA: Right. And that's ended up being about the height she is now with the surgery. So, you know, those estimates kept getting less and less and less every time we went, which was shocking to us because we just didn't expect that. We thought this was going to be a non-issue. You know, she'd be a little shorter than most children but that was it.
MARTIN: You - the article describes a time when Caitlin was six, and you brought her a brand new trike...
Ms. ANDUHA: Yes. Yes.
MARTIN: A tricycle for Christmas, which is a great gift. Her feet didn't reach the pedals. What was that moment like for you?
Ms. ANDUHA: That was a turning point. You know, I guess we were naive. We had blinders on, so to speak. We thought our daughter was beautiful and perfect, just like every other parent thinks their child is.
MARTIN: She is beautiful and perfect.
Ms. ANDUHA: Well, we think so. But it was, you know, we started realizing and seeing that things in life are going to be a challenge for her that we just didn't expect. You know, we managed. My dad put blocks on. She happily rode around the parking lot, and she was perfectly happy with that at that point. You know, that was a time when she didn't quite understand yet what the implications of this disability were going to be for her.
MARTIN: You heard about this lengthening surgery, which the article describes in excruciating detail, when Caitlin was about four, but you were adamantly against it. Why?
Ms. ANDUHA: I think if you're a parent that probably answers the question. You would never want to put your child through something like that.
MARTIN: Like what?
Ms. ANDUHA: Painful. You never want your child to feel like they're less than who they are. You never want your child to feel like something's wrong with them. And to me, accepting that that was going to be a reality made all those things real, and it wasn't real to me. She was perfect to me.
MARTIN: And it involved breaking the bones, putting screws in, turning the bones. She would actually have to not be able to walk for a while at all.
Ms. ANDUHA: Yes.
MARTIN: For like a month, right?
Ms. ANDUHA: Oh, yes.
MARTIN: Or longer.
Ms. ANDUHA: I think Caitlin can describe that experience probably better than I.
MARTIN: Well, Caitlin, before you do, describe the experience but tell us what it is that made you want to do this because one of the things - your mom made it clear that it was decision, not hers. You know, some people - some procedures have to be done before you're really old enough to decide for yourself, but she's left it up to you, so tell me why.
Ms. SCHROEDER: Yes. My parents were always really good with giving me that decision. They always gave me a lot of information, enough to go each way, whether to do this or not to do this. And I spent most of my childhood kind of going back and forth with the idea. Like, one month I might say, I really want to do this. Let's go ahead and do this. But I wasn't really firm on that, and the next, I'd be, no, I'm fine the way I am.
MARTIN: But talk to me about what this is. Tell me about some of what you had to go through with surgery. It's not just the surgery; it's the rehabilitation afterwards.
Ms. SCHROEDER: Yeah, that was probably the hardest part. The surgery, they went in and broke the bones and screwed these pins into it. So when I woke up from the first surgery, I had 24 rods protruding from my legs connected to these fixators(ph); that's the term everyone uses for them. And then I started immediately having to do physical therapy. The first day after the surgery, they came in and began to start. And that would be basic stretches, moving my knees and my legs all these different directions.
MARTIN: I've got to tell you, as a person - you know, I have twins, and I must tell you, the first time I had to take them for shots and listening to them scream, it was literally one of the hardest days of my life even though I felt like I know I'm doing this for the right reasons, this is absolutely the right decision. But listening to those and holding them down and watching their little faces, the tears, I just - I really wonder how you were both able to - how were you both able to get through that?
Ms. ANDUHA: Well, the experience she's talking about, the day after surgery, they come into the hospital room - she was in the hospital about four or five days after the first surgery. And they sat her, they got on the end of the bed, and you've got to understand, I mean, she's just had, you know, eight hours of surgery on her legs. It was horrifying, and you know, I could hardly bear it. I wanted to just run from the room, but you know, I couldn't.
And it says in the article that Caitlin didn't make a sound and she didn't. Most kids scream and cry and holler, and you know, it's hard to hear that, too, when you're in physical therapy and seeing what other children are going through - and some very, very young children because they do this for rehabilitative purposes also for children that are born with limbs that may not be quite developed.
MARTIN: Caitlin, this is the conversation that a lot of people in other communities have had or are still having, whether to adapt themselves to the society or fight. You know, there are certain points in our history where being black was not great, you know, and that there were some people who chose to pass or change their appearance in such a way as to make themselves more palatable to the larger society. People in the deaf community are having this conversation, whether they use certain technologies like cochlear implants or not. And some people say - and forgive me if this is not - I hope this isn't too intrusive, but to say, gee, you know, why should you change? There's nothing wrong with you. Maybe other people should change. What do you think about that? That it's their problem, not your problem.
Ms. SCHROEDER: Yes. It's everyone's own decision. I felt that this was the best for me because I just felt it would make my life a lot easier. And this decision was always open to me, and I just thought I would be able to go through life much easier if I was taller. And I have great respect for people who chose to or not to do this. There's a right choice for everyone, I think.
MARTIN: And how is it now, now that you have added the - what - the five and a half inches onto your height? Have you noticed a change in the way people treat you or how you feel?
Ms. SCHROEDER: Definitely. I'm still short, of course, but...
MARTIN: I prefer petite.
Ms. SCHROEDER: Petite. But before the five inches of height, people went around, they thought I was about seven or eight when I was even 14. People thought I might be that old. And now, I go into school and people think I might be a senior instead of a freshman, which is a pretty big change for me.
MARTIN: And I wonder why they think you're a senior. Is it because partly because your whole - you've been through so much that maybe your outlook on life is different?
Ms. SCHROEDER: I think that might be it.
MARTIN: You know, you're facing another decision. There's the option of undergoing another procedure to lengthen your arms. What's your thought about that?
Ms. SCHROEDER: Going into this, they weren't sure whether I'd have to lengthen my arms or not, but my arms were always a bit long, even before I got the five inches. So I've kind of figured that I don't really need that.
MARTIN: Jennifer, if you're thinking about everything your family went through, and this is not just easy - this is tough on Caitlin, tough on you. You have to really tear up your life in order to accommodate the therapy and everything. Would you do it again?
Ms. ANDUHA: Oh, absolutely, without a question. Yes. Yes.
MARTIN: How come?
Ms. ANDUHA: I would do anything for her. Again, I said I went into this with blinders on a little bit, and I think that was probably to protect myself in some ways. But yes, I've told Caitlin whatever she decides to do I would do it again because I feel it will only benefit her in the long run. I feel this has made a huge change in her outlook on life, the way she carries herself, her maturity, you know, everything about her, and the fact that she can do things without assistance that she couldn't do before.
MARTIN: Caitlin, what's the best thing about being five inches taller?
Ms. SCHROEDER: Shopping. It's much easy to find clothes. That's the most fun one I can think of here.
(Soundbite of laughter)
MARTIN: OK. Well, now we know what we're getting you for Christmas, or what Santa's bringing. All right. Caitlin Schroeder recently underwent a procedure to lengthen her legs. Her story is the subject of an article in this week's Washington Post Magazine written by Caitlin Gibson. The title is "How She's Grown." And if you want to read it in its entirety, we'll have a link on our Web site. She was also joined by Jennifer Anduha, her mom. Thank you both so much for joining us.
Ms. ANDUHA: Thank you for having us.
Ms. SCHROEDER: Thank you.
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