Carlee Jo Vonderheid had her first surgery when she was eight months old. That procedure, while successful in removing an extra toe from each foot, left her with a lingering pain in her right foot. Over the years, that made it increasingly difficult for her to do the one thing in life that she most enjoyed: dancing. "There were always moves I just couldn't do," she tells the Eau Claire Leader-Telegram. Still, Carlee Jo was determined to not let pain limit her passion for dancing. So as the years went on, she blocked it out of her mind and danced through the pain.
"After a while, that just became my normal," she tells the newspaper. At least until Carlee Jo and her Regis High School dance team performed at the Wisconsin state dance championships in 2014. After that competition, Carlee Jo and her mom scheduled an appointment with a doctor at Mayo Clinic Health System in Eau Claire to see if anything could be done about her foot. There, she met with orthopedic surgeon Mark Herr, M.D., whose exams revealed that Carlee Jo had, for years, been dancing with dislocated toes on her right foot. "It's remarkable that she was able to dance," Dr. Herr tells the Leader-Telegram.
Dr. Herr inserted a screw into the big toe on Carlee Jo's right foot, along with a wire into the toe next to it, in hopes of "fusing" the dislocated bones back together. But even "after months of recovery and rehabilitation," it didn't work. Dr. Herr then inserted a screw into Carlee Jo's second toe, as well. That one did the trick.
Carlee Jo became so inspired by her experience that this summer, she's one of 31 high school and college students participating in Mayo Clinic Health System's Medical Experience (MedEx) program. The program introduces students to medical careers through "interactions with doctors in a hospital." For Carlee Jo, those interactions will include shadowing eight doctors at Mayo Clinic Health System in Eau Claire to get a better understanding of the work they do on behalf of patients. And so far, the Leader-Telegram reports, Carlee Jo's time in the program has not only "inspired her to work in the medical field" herself, but also "opened her eyes" to what may be possible for her, career-wise. "I'm learning a lot about the field of medicine and discovering ideas I hadn't even thought of before," she says.
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