A Van Nuys woman with Down syndrome is going through a painful surgical process on her feet in order to continue pursuing her passion of dancing.
Susie Schallert, 46, lights up on the dance floor.
“I’m a dancing fool. I am a lucky dancer. It is my dream to be in a show,” she said.
Susie, the youngest of 11 kids, is adored by her siblings.
“She’s taught me to be patient and kind. She’s taught me to go slow and not rush through life,” said Susie’s older sister, Patty.
In many ways, Susie was forced to go slow. As a teen, her feet stopped growing and bunions started reshaping her toes.
“They’re bad, they’re bad. She has toes on top of toes and bunions that look like golf balls on the sides, and the joints are gone. Can you imagine?” Patty said.
Susie’s mother, Mary, took her to the doctor.
She said the doctor brushed it off, reminding her that, at the time, the life expectancy of someone with Down syndrome was only about 25 years.
“Another doctor told me, ‘Is she walking?’ And I said, ‘Yeah.’ And he said, ‘Well, then let her walk,’” said Mary.
Patty said, “I’d say to my mom, ‘If it was a neurotypical child, they would do it. They would fix her feet. They wouldn’t let her go this far.’”
When podiatrist Dr. Thomas Clemente met Susie about a year ago, he couldn’t believe she was walking, much less dancing.
“Her (feet) are probably the worst I’ve seen,” said Clemente.
People with Down syndrome tend to have a higher threshold for pain, explained Clemente.
“Most patients don’t have the type of fortitude that Susie has and they would probably spend most of their time in a chair,” he said.
Decades after Mary mentioned her daughter’s disfigured feet to doctors, Clemente agreed to give Susie the surgery she so desperately needed.
“It’s a gift. It’s one of those situations where I wish I could have seen her 20 years ago,” he said.
In his 35 years of practice, Susie is only the second Down syndrome patient the doctor has ever seen come into his office.
“Most people treat the Down’s patient differently. I’m not saying that’s right, it’s not, but I believe that has to be the underlying reason,” said Clemente.
Clemente has completed the first of four surgeries that Susie will undergo.
Surgery day was an emotional one.
Susie’s longtime boyfriend, Blair, was by her side. She wept in her mother’s arms before she was whisked away to the operating room.
It was a painful procedure, but the payoff was immediately noticeable. Four pins were placed in Susie’s foot and she will eventually have a total joint replacement.
Her family is finally hopeful.
“I want her to dance. I’m sorry. I want her to keep dancing,” Patty cried.
Susie won’t be finished with her surgeries for about another year, but Clemente said once she’s done, she will be able to walk without pain and dance as often as she desires.