Brooke Carlson

'We were just really stuck' -- until NDAD wheeled in with help

Brooke Carlson, in early 2015
The doctor gave Brooke Carlson a restriction she simply had to follow: no running, walking or putting weight on her hips for one year’s time.

Hardly the type of restriction welcomed by an 8-year-old active in gymnastics since she was 2.
Still, Brooke recalls the pain she felt in the summer. Her mom, Lisa Nelson, recalls when she realized it was not a minor ache.

“I just assumed she hurt her groin because she had been doing the splits,” Nelson said. “We knew it meant business when she asked to see the doctors.”

Turns out Brooke has Legg-Calve-Perthes, a childhood disease that involves one hip or occasionally both.

According to Mayo Clinic’s website, Legg-Calve-Perthes occurs when the ball portion of the hip joint – the intersection of the pelvis and thighbone -- receives inadequate blood supply. That causes the bone to become unstable and even die, which leaves it vulnerable to breaking easily and healing poorly. The ball part of the joint loses its round shape, introducing friction.
Lisa Nelson with her daughter, Brooke Carlson.

“In an adult, it’s an arthritic hip,” Nelson said. “In children, we just can’t leave that alone because it’s growing.”

For Brooke, the course of action was to reposition her right hip during a procedure done Sept. 5 at Gillette Children’s Specialty Healthcare in St. Paul. She missed several weeks of school.

Brooke and her mom were sent home with an adult wheelchair to use. Brooke adjusted somewhat but she couldn’t maneuver the larger chair easily.

It was so large, heavy and awkward that Nelson struggled to lift in and out of their car. She needed help – usually, from her husband, Michael Nelson – but their work schedules meant he wasn’t always available to assist.

“We were just really stuck,” Carlson recalled.

In mid-October, while seeking a quick, temporary solution, one of the doctors at her employer -- Valley Bone and Joint -- suggested she try calling charitable nonprofit NDAD, which has a temporary assistive equipment loan program.

Nelson called and learned that a smaller chair was available, and immediately she drove a few minutes to NDAD’s Grand Forks office near Columbia Mall.
Brooke Carlson and the NDAD wheelchair she borrowed. 
“Within five minutes, I had a chair in my car,” Nelson recalled. “I was just ecstatic. It was totally perfect.”
Brooke’s reaction when she saw it: “It’s tiny!”

But the girl transferred herself into the smaller chair, took it for a spin and was able to maneuver it much more easily — so much so, her mom made a quick video of her daughter and posted it on NDAD’s Facebook page.

The family’s Labrador retrievers, Bella and Shadow, were eager to follow her, too.

“Loves it. Doesn’t like the thought of having to give it back” once the equipment loan ends, Nelson said.

NDAD short-term equipment loans typically run for up to 90 days.

As for her Legg-Calve-Perthes, Brooke “is really accustomed to it. She definitely has learned to live with what she has. She does incredibly well. People have been very accommodating, too.”

Brooke’s time as a gymnast probably is over.

In fact, the Grand Forks girl has been advised to stay away from aggressive impact sports in her life to avoid making her hip issues worse.

“At some point, she probably will need a hip replacement – between 35 and 50,” Nelson said. “We need to do as much as we can to protect her” from worsening problems.

Brooke has started swimming several days a week at Grand Forks YMCA pool.

“She took off like a fish as soon as she got in the pool,” Nelson said.

But the 8-year-old isn’t stopping there.

According to her mom, who recently began a second career as a certified health coach, Brooke Carlson’s plan “is that she and I open up a yoga studio together.”

It just might be an ideal fit.

-- Mike Brue

The writer is communications director of NDAD.

NOTE: Originally published in the winter of 2015.