Tauranga teen slowly stepping up

Zahnee Riley-Campbell walking Mia and Bear, two dogs she looks after for her dog sitting service.

Zahnee Riley-Campbell measured 168cm when she went into surgery and came out 4cm taller.

“I woke up from the surgery taller than mum and I have grown since then,” says Zahnee.

The 13-year-old has had way more than her fair share of adversity, culminating in a condition called spondylolisthesis.

Pain caused by the disorder left Zahnee unable to walk properly and reliant on a wheelchair.

“It got to the stage where I just couldn’t walk up the stairs, I was basically crawling up them.”

Thanks to a surgical feat, the teenager is now back on her own two feet. She is even co-owner of a dog sitting service, with her younger brother.

In November, Zahnee went through a complex, 12-hour, lower spine surgery to fix the problem.

Mum Jade Riley says, before the surgery, her daughter had been forced to take almost two terms off school because she was in so much pain.

That’s in the past now because just two weeks ago Auckland Starship Hospital surgeons Antony Field and Hamish Crawford were celebrating a successful recovery.

“You couldn’t wipe the smiles off their faces, I can’t even imagine the pressure they would have felt. For the CT to come back good was an absolute relief,” says Jade.

“I was dancing down the hallways to see the doctors last Monday, they didn’t even recognise me,” says Zahnee.

The surgical procedure involved five surgeons from start to finish, inserting donated bone and metal into her spine and pelvis.

“They got bone from America and put it in. A cage, and a lot of metal in my pelvis. A lot of metal in general,” says Zahnee.

Jade says it was one of the most complex spine surgeries completed at Auckland Starship Hospital.

“One of the surgeons, Antony has only done six in his lifetime.”

Jade describes the surgery recovery as a slow, but successful process.

“We're certainly not out of the woods yet, but Zahnee is slowly getting there.

“After the surgery, the pain from before was gone, she only had recovery pain.

“She came home and tackled the stairs up to her bedroom straight away which was amazing.

“Up until now, Zahnee hasn’t been able to put any pressure on her body. She wasn’t allowed to go swimming, jump on the trampoline, ride her bike or walk the dogs.”

Zahnee says she is absolutely stoked to be a kid again and regain her sense of independence.

“I can run around and kick the ball around with my brother, I’m not the weak one anymore.

“I don’t like people doing stuff for me. Now if I want something done, I can do it myself.

“When my brother used to push me in a wheelchair, I was like ‘oh Zandon I can do it myself’ even though I couldn’t. But now I can walk into Bayfair myself, and it’s really cool.”

Zahnee and her younger brother Zandon run Z Team’s Dog Sitting Service, donating a portion of the business profits to the SPCA.

The Aquinas College student is eager to launch back into dog sitting, as well as her volunteer work for the SPCA and Salvation Army Red Shield Appeal.

Both Zahnee and Jade are overwhelmingly relieved she is on the other side of the surgery.

“I think it’s just onwards and upwards from here really, with the rehabilitation,” says Jade.

“I am so grateful for everyone who has supported her, and the whole of Starship has been absolutely wonderful, including the surgeons. We are just so pleased to have her back up on her feet.”

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