Jenna’s story: How two surgeons changed her path in life

Inspired by her own surgeries, Jenna dresses up as doctor

“Your daughter was a very sick little girl.” Those were the first words that came out of Dr. Peter Waters’ mouth as he addressed my parents in the waiting room of Boston Children’s Hospital, back in 1999. They had been anxiously waiting, wondering and worrying about my condition.

“Will they get it all?”

“Will she be the same?”

“Will she survive?”

All of these questions occupied the minds of my parents as they sat waiting for their two-year-old daughter to come out of emergency surgery.

A life-saving procedure

…it’s what now inspires me to want to become a doctor myself”

Dr. Waters, the Orthopedic Surgeon-in-Chief and Director of the Hand and Upper Extremity Program at Boston Children’s, told my parents that all of the pain, fever and swelling that had taken over their cheerful toddler was due to septic arthritis. The infection had started at some point within my body, traveled through the bloodstream and eventually lodged itself in my left shoulder joint. It was a rare occurrence, and he told them they were very lucky, that waiting much longer could have led to a much more tragic situation.

My parents thanked Dr. Waters and also thanked God for keeping me alive. I would end up staying at Boston Children’s for a week, on heavy-duty IV antibiotics to eradicate any recurrence of the infection.

Today, I have a small scar under my left arm that is a permanent reminder of the horror my parents felt that week. It’s a testament to the hours of work that the skilled surgeons put in just to keep me breathing. And it’s what now inspires me to want to become a doctor myself.

The second surgery

Fast-forward 13 years. I’m preparing for my first regional figure skating competition. As I begin warming up for my lesson, I effortlessly go through the motions — spinning, jumping and performing the intricate footwork my muscles have memorized so easily.

Jenna Lahey skating

I throw myself into the air, and all goes well until my blade hits the ice and I feel the pop of my Achilles. It happens really quickly, but I immediately know something is wrong. Before I know it, I’m being carried off the ice by one of the coaches.

Determined to help me get back to skating, my parents take me to see orthopedic surgeon, Dr. Lyle Micheli, Director of the Sports Medicine Division at Boston Children’s.

I have multiple appointments, MRI’s and follow-ups that year, and because of Dr. Micheli, my Achilles fully heals. He also treats me for numerous herniations to the L4 and L5 discs in my back — thanks to his excellent care — I go on to achieve all that I could have imagined in skating. I’m named a double Senior Gold Medalist in the sport, but most importantly, I am convinced that I want to pursue a career in the medical field.

Giving back to patients

At this point, I’m only 16 but I’m anxious to get started on my journey to become a doctor. One day, an idea comes to me. I’ve always loved baking, and have been told that my cookies are marvelous. So, I spend the next few months of my junior year in high school baking, packaging and selling homemade cookies. I make over $500 that fall, and I use that money to purchase toys, coloring books, crayons and board games to put in the 60 gift bags that I bring to Boston Children’s over the holidays.

I repeat my efforts the following year, this time bringing 89 gift bags! I find that there is nothing more rewarding than bringing a smile to a sick child’s face, and the thought of doing that for the rest of my life makes me determined to go into pediatrics when I am older.

Thankful for both the past and future

Today, I’m 18 and heading off to college. In reflecting on all of the injuries and illnesses I have endured over the course of my life, I cannot help but be thankful for them. I truly believe that I was put on this Earth to help other people, and if I had not experienced those debilitating injuries, I would not have realized my passion of helping others.

I am so thankful to Dr. Waters and Dr. Micheli not only for healing me, but for also opening my eyes to the endless fulfillment that one can receive from working as a physician. I am also extremely thankful to my family and my faith for strengthening me and helping me see that I can do anything. I am so excited to embark on the journey towards helping those in need … “until every child is well.”

Learn more about the Orthopedic Center and Sports Medicine Division at Boston Children’s