Meet Titanium Tanner
Tanner Ross, Age 12, from Stow, Ohio
Sidekicks: Dad, mom, brother, sister, Akron Children’s Doggie Brigade member Chris Witschey and her dogs, as well as therapists, Britney and Mike
When he’s not busy overcoming obstacles: Tanner enjoys playing video games, listening to music and hitting balls at the golf range.
Did you know fact: Tanner was a Change Bandit at this year’s Akron Children’s radiothon. While his parents volunteered to answer phones at the radiothon, Tanner became fast friends with the son of radiothon emcee and 98.1 WKDD morning show host, Keith Kennedy.
Why Tanner is a #ACHero: Born with neurofibromatosis, a genetic disorder, Tanner has undergone numerous spine surgeries and hours of therapy to relieve pain and severe scoliosis caused by the disorder. He stays positive with the support of his family and dog ‘therapists,’ as well as by helping others as a member of the Akron Children’s teen advisory group.
Tanner’s Story: Pam and Brian Ross couldn’t wait to get involved with their youngest son Tanner’s activities just as they had done for their older children. But, for Tanner, his activities didn’t involve practices; they involve scheduling dozens of spinal surgeries and hours of therapy at Akron Children’s Hospital.
“Tanner had several birthmarks on him at age 2 that were consistent with signs of neurofibromatosis (NF),” said mom, Pam Ross. “I have a family history of NF and a mild case it myself so I knew what to look for…the next sign came at age 4 when it looked like Tanner had dislocated his shoulder.”
NF is a genetic disorder that causes tumors to form on nerve tissues and can affect many parts of the body. For Tanner, NF attacked his spine causing dystrophic scoliosis, a very rapid and severe form of scoliosis.
Genetic testing confirmed Tanner had NF1 and X-rays revealed he had a 115-degree curvature of his spine, about 3 times more extreme than the most severe cases of scoliosis. The curvature was compromising Tanner’s heart and lungs so, at age 5, Tanner had his first spinal surgery.
Tanner’s orthopedic team took bone marrow from his hip to fuse the rods, screws and bolts to his spine to help straighten his curvature. Since he was so young, Tanner had surgery every 6 months to lengthen the rods as he grew taller.
At age 10, Tanner’s curvature started going into his shoulders causing them to turn inwards, requiring another surgery. After this surgery, though, Tanner’s rods got infected. He had emergency surgery to remove all the hardware from his spine to allow his body to heal.
Once recovered from the infection, Tanner needed new rods and pins inserted back in his spine, in 2 different locations, to keep his curvature from worsening.
First, surgeons fused a portion of Tanner’s spine together to allow the painful vertebrae in his back to heal into a single, solid bone. In support, Tanner was placed in a traction halo that kept his head fixed in a forward-facing position for 21 days. The halo was also connected to weights that worked to straighten and lengthen his spine.
A second surgery fused another portion of his neck and spine together. Recovery required physical, occupational and aquatic therapy 5-6 days a week for 4 hours a day.
“He did a lot of therapy with Chris (Witschey) and her dogs…She’s a volunteer yet came in every day, sometimes for 2 hours, even teaching Tanner sign language so he could communicate with one of the dogs,” said Pam. “All of her dogs have disabilities which I think helped Tanner relate and respond to them…Her dogs were the only things that kept him going. They were a life saver for him.”
After 39 days in the hospital, Tanner was able to go home wearing a Minerva brace that continued to immobilize his spine for 8 months.
“Tanner has a unique relationship with his regular physicians, Dr. Schrader, Dr. Narjarian and Dr. Davidson … he does what they ask him to do because he knows they’re all working to help him,” said Pam.
At age 12, Tanner had another surgery to revise the rods near his neck. He’s back to school now and continues with therapy and using a feeding tube to regain strength and mobility lost during his surgeries.
“Tanner inspires me everyday,” said Pam. “With all that he’s been through, he always wants to make sure others are happy around him and to take care of them.”
Brian, Tanner’s dad, agrees. “Tanner’s courage and ability to become a caring and engaging child has blessed us…We’re grateful for him and all who care for him at Akron Children’s.”