Children's Hospital Colorado

Jennifer: Spinal Fusion Surgery Changed My Life

Jennifer Barksdale

Jennifer Barksdale is the Mobile Resource Coordinator in the Blood Donor Center at Children's Hospital Colorado.


I am here today as a volunteer and employee at Children's Hospital Colorado, as well as a former patient. My relationship with Children's Colorado began about 18 years ago when I was just 10-years-old. I was diagnosed with kyphosis, a curvature of the spine similar to scoliosis, and my parents, who are both physicians, started researching the best hospitals.Dr. Frank Chang stands with patient Jennifer Barksdale, who became a Children's Hospital Colorado employee.

The Orthopedics Institute at Children's Colorado

After my first appointment at Children's Colorado, my family and I met the staff in the Orthopedics Institute including Frank Chang, M.D., a renowned orthopedic surgeon. Right away it was obvious we had found the best place for my treatment. After several years of checkups, progressive back braces, and trips to Denver from my hometown in Nebraska, it became apparent that surgery was the only option. By then, I had built a strong support system at Children's Colorado, one that my family and I relied on as we faced the next step: spinal fusion surgery.

Spinal fusion surgery

I had spinal fusion surgery performed by Dr. Chang to correct my then severe kyphosis in July 2002 when I was 16-years-old. Children's Colorado had a wonderful program for kids undergoing spinal fusion surgery that I attended a few weeks prior to my surgery. Everything was explained to my family, from what would happen during the surgery, to an actual show-and-tell of various tubes and IV's.

There was a 2% chance I wouldn't survive the surgery, and also the potential for paralysis and other complications. Knowing this information was hard to swallow at such a young age. I remember my younger brother bursting into tears at the time. I felt like I had to be even stronger for him and the rest of my family. I was 15 going on 30.

My spine was fused both anteriorly and posteriorly. The surgical team went into my chest cavity with a scope, collapsed my right lung for the anterior fusion, and then flipped me over onto my front to do the posterior fusion. They inserted two rods and 10 screws into my spine. The correction of my curvature added almost three inches to my height.

Though I faced a difficult recovery, including learning to walk again with my new nifty hardware and training myself to breathe again after I was taken off the ventilator, I had an amazing support group behind me the entire time. The nursing care was terrific after my surgery and they worked hard to keep me as comfortable as possible and to get me moving quickly to enhance my recovery process. I knew I wasn't alone on this journey, and was reminded that I wasn't the only kid going through this. I remember the volunteers with the Pet Prescription Program bringing in dogs to visit after my surgery – it was the highlight of my stay.

Inspired to become a volunteer and an employee

I feel in that my journey with Children's Colorado has come full-circle. I'm now a employee in the Blood Donor Center, a volunteer, and Chair of the Young Professionals Chapter of the Association of Volunteers (we organize fundraising events for the hospital and, best of all, throw pizza parties for the kids). Children's Colorado has done so much for me, my family, and countless other kids. I am so pleased to be here to share my story, and to express my gratitude at being a part of this wonderful community. 

I still have a wonderful relationship with Dr. Chang and his wife and the full support of the staff here at the hospital. Children's Colorado truly changed my life and I knew that when I grew up I wanted to come back and make an impact on someone's life, just like the staff at the hospital did on mine.