When Maddy Wheeler was only 12 hours old, she was flown to Nicklaus Children’s Hospital, then Miami Children’s, from her hometown of Lake Worth, Florida to undergo the first of several surgeries to treat spina bifida, a congenital condition that affects the backbone and membranes around the spinal cord.
Following the initial surgery, Maddy was admitted to Nicklaus Children’s Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU), where she received care for 10 days. During these early days with Maddy, the Wheeler family came to know the team of doctors who would become familiar faces throughout her life’s journey.
Maddy’s initial surgery was in the care of Dr. Sanjiv Bhatia, neurosurgeon. “Dr. Bhatia has gone above and beyond. He treated us as if we were his own family,” recalls Maddy’s mother, Christi Wheeler. “Words cannot express how grateful we are to him.”
Thanks to a multidisciplinary team approach to assessment and treatment, something that a freestanding children’s hospital like Nicklaus Children’s can offer, Maddy received coordinated care by an array of subspecialists. The team includes Dr. Michael Tidwell and Dr. Harry Shufflebarger, pediatric orthopedic surgeons; Dr. Andrew Labbie, pediatric urologist; Dr. Felix Ramirez-Seijas, pediatric nephrologist; and Dr. Alisa Muniz- Crim, pediatric gastroenterologist. These physicians collaborate to provide a plan of care tailored to Maddy’s specific needs and to ensure she is meeting and exceeding all of her developmental targets.
Today, Maddy, 7, is a vibrant and energetic second grader. Despite physical limitations, Maddy has participated in a cheerleading league and loves to ride her bicycle around her neighborhood. She also loves to sing and dance and hopes to become an entertainer someday. Maddie is currently receiving Hippotherapy, which is a form of physical therapy that incorporates equipment movement to provide motor and sensory input and support.
“We are very proud of Maddy and all that she has accomplished. We are so very thankful to all the doctors who have worked together to give her the best possible outcome. For her to have the lifestyle she has now would not have been possible without all of them,” said Christi.