Cecelia started ballet classes at the age of four, probably completely unaware that it would become such a huge part of her life and her career. And now at age 56, still young, still vibrant, and still strong, she still dances. But it wasn’t until recently she was even able to think about dancing again. Her journey back to the dance floor wasn’t easy; the challenges she faced she didn’t think she’d overcome, but she was determined, still is, to get back on her feet for one last performance.
Growing up, Cecelia received scholarships to competitively practice ballet throughout her youth and then went on to dance professionally at various ballet companies including The San Francisco Ballet, Joffrey and then Ballet Hawaii where she performed as the lead female dancer for several years. “Ballet has always been such a huge part of me. I had to work very hard at it, but I love it; it’s in me; I have to dance,” Cecelia says.
And while classical ballet is seen as one of the most graceful and eloquent forms of dance, the toll it can take on a ballerinas body can be devastating. In the fall of 2017 while Cecelia was at the gym, she noticed pain and tightness in her hips and decided to make an appointment with her doctor for x-rays. “She told me I had bone-on-bone arthritis and I thought, well great, what am I supposed to do now?” says Cecelia. Cecelia made an appointment with an orthopedist where she was administered steroid shots to help with the pain but less than three weeks later her pain returned. “And that’s when I started researching stem cell shots. I thought because surgery was too expensive maybe there were other options I could explore. I was wrong,” she explains.
Cecelia found a doctor that administered stem cell therapy and made an appointment to receive a stem cell shot in her left hip, the one she was experiencing the most pain in. Less than four hours after receiving the stem cell shot she was in excruciating pain and couldn’t walk. Cecelia was rushed to the emergency room where she was diagnosed with a septic infection and was then immediately admitted to the OR. Her surgeon at Seton Northwest cleaned out her septic infection twice during the week-long stay Cecelia spent in the hospital. “There was a point when I was suffering from the infection where I really thought I was done,” says Cecelia, “I was mad at the world, I was mad at everyone and everything.”
The fear of never dancing again was crushing for Cecelia. At one point she thought she might even lose her leg to the infection. But after her doctor’s reassurance, she found new motivation to get back on her feet. She pushed herself to get back into her normal activities like going to the gym, even if it meant using her walker to get around. “Just getting up and going made me feel better. I thought to myself ‘I can do this, I’m not going to feel sorry for myself, I’m not going to let this ruin me,’” she says. Cecelia was eager to get healthy again so she could finally go through with her hip replacement surgery. After her infection cleared, she was referred to Kevin Bozic, MD, orthopedic surgeon and executive director of the UT Health Austin Musculoskeletal Institute.
The day Cecelia was scheduled to receive her first hip replacement, she explains, was an emotional one for her. “I was so excited to get my new hip, I cried. I was surrounded by such amazing doctors and felt so cared for. I was just so grateful,” she says. She received her first hip replacement in March 2018 and was back at the gym and doing physical therapy within a week of her surgery. After six months of recovering from her first hip replacement, she was scheduled for the second in October 2018. “Like with the first surgery, I knew I was in good hands. I can trust this hospital and I can trust these doctors,” Cecelia exclaims.
Cecelia recovered from the second hip replacement just as beautifully as she did the first and that’s when she decided it was time to get back out on the dance floor again. She found Austin City Ballet and said the second she walked in the door, she felt right at home. Cecelia is currently in a beginners ballet class where she practices to get her hips and body strong again. “I came in here unsure of what my hips could handle but decided to do it and try my best. There are a lot of things I still can’t do, but I’m getting better after each practice,” Cecelia says.
She plans to continue with her ballet, to get stronger so she can perform again on stage, one final time, “maybe even two final times,” Cecelia says with a laugh. She also plans on taking other dance classes like jazz, tap and modern and potentially get back into teaching ballet to younger kids. Cecelia’s passion is overflowing, her determination is unmatched and her bubbly personality makes you think she could be no less than superwoman. Her advice to others who may be facing health challenges is, “if you go in strong, you come out strong.” And with that, we can’t wait to see her elegant presence grace the stage again.