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Growing Pains: For Caitlin Schroeder, Achieving Near-Average Height Would Require No Small Act of Courage

Caitlin Schroeder was born with Dwarfism and stopped growing at 4-foot-2. She was painfully aware of being different from other “normal” kids her age—she wasn’t able to go on the roller coaster with her friends at amusement parks, shop for clothes her size, or reach the faucets in the school bathrooms. So at age 13, Caitlin elected to undergo grueling limb-lengthening surgery involving months of painful stretching and physical therapy. Each day, Caitlin used a wrench to turn screws that pulled the ends of her broken bones apart—one millimeter a day in her upper thighs and 0.75 millimeters in her lower legs—and each day, her bones generated new tissue to cross the distance. Her skin, muscles and blood vessels also stretched and grew as her bones were lengthened. In three months, the agonizing process added 5 3/4 inches to Caitlin’s height; she is now 4 feet, 8 1/2 inches tall. It was months before her bones mended and the devices removed. After Caitlin recovered, her family moved to Alexandria, VA where she experienced high school without wheelchairs and hospitals. She even learned to ride a bike, an impossible task prior to the procedures. When Caitlin turned 16 she reached another milestone: “I can start learning how to drive!” she says cheerfully. “I was excited when I found out I could see over the wheel and reach the pedals!” Caitlin graduated from West Potomac High School in Alexandria, VA and now attends Christopher Newport University, and is expected to graduate in June of 2016.

 

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