At a Friday afternoon soccer practice, sophomore Kendall Dunbar is struggling to keep up with the rest of her teammates.
While scrimmaging with her team, she begins to notice the excruciating pain in her back every time she moves. She muscles through the practice until it is time for her to finally take off her cleats and go home.
Dunbar is walking to her car on the other side of the Indian Hills Middle School soccer field, which is usually a three minute walk, but for Dunbar it takes 20. She begins to jump across the creek to get to her car, but she instantly buckles over in pain. Dunbar knows she is going to have to climb into the creek and walk through it rather than jumping. Dunbar finally wades through the creek, gets in her car and begins to cry.
After Dunbar’s traumatic soccer practice, many doctor’s visits and X-rays, she was finally diagnosed with three herniated discs.
“My herniated discs are kind of like lego pieces,” Dunbar said. “They slipped but they didn’t slip completely out of place.”
A herniated disc occurs when the soft cushion in between each bone on the vertebrae of the spine begins to fall out of place. It is most commonly found in people age 33 to 55, usually because of weight gain or aging. For an active 15-year-old like Dunbar, three herniated discs is a rare occurrence.
“When I first saw the X-rays of Kendall’s back, I asked how old the person was and how much they weighed,” Dr. Peggy Grantham, Dunbar’s chiropractor said. “So I was surprised to hear that the X-rays belonged to someone like Kendall.”
To treat the injury, Dunbar is required to wear a back brace seven days a week, for 23 hours a day. This means she is left with one brace-free hour a day. Dunbar tries not to take the brace off “just to take it off.” Whenever she is without her brace, it is usually because she is showering or spending time in the pool.
Dunbar’s back brace makes it almost impossible for her to wear anything but Nike shorts and an oversized t-shirt.
“After the fitting for my brace, my mom took me shopping and out to lunch to try to find clothes that would fit over the brace,” Dunbar said. “But I was just so mad the whole time and didn’t want to try on anything. I just thought it all looked so ugly and not at all feminine.”
Not only does the brace interfere with things like clothes, but it also makes it hard for Dunbar spend time with her friends and family.
“I have had to miss out on a lot of stuff because of the brace, like going to the pool and even parties because I just don’t have anything to wear to them,” Dunbar said. “The good thing is that the brace should make me stronger than I ever was before.”
For Dunbar, the biggest devastation is being unable to play soccer.
Dunbar is the captain of her soccer team, Football Club of Kansas City. According to Dunbar’s soccer coach, Carrie Robinson, she’s also one of the team’s natural leaders. When she found out she would be out of playing for at least three months, she knew she would have to find other ways to be a part of the team.
Dunbar still comes to as many soccer practices as she can, and according to Robinson she does everything from cheering on her team and supporting them to setting up cones for drills.
“The difference with Kendall is that a lot of people find out they are injured and they just assume they are not part of the team and stop showing up to practice,” Robinson said. “It really shows a lot about her character that she still wants to be apart of it.”
No matter how much Dunbar remains a part of the team, sitting on the sidelines and cheering on her friends it still doesn’t make up for Dunbar’s love of playing soccer.
In a couple weeks Dunbar will be able to take her brace off and then begin physical therapy. If all goes as planned, she should be back to playing soccer around the end of September.
If the brace and physical therapy does not succeed in repairing Dunbar’s back, she will have to endure another three months of her back brace. If she tries the back brace three times, for a grand total of nine months, and it does not succeed, Dunbar will have to face surgery to fuse her herniated discs back together again.
However, a healthy and speedy recovery is anticipated. Dunbar fully expects to be back laughing and having fun on the soccer field with her friends in no time.