Ballet Dancer Learns To Dance Again After Leg Amputation

'I believe I can do anything.'

23/06/2016 11:17 | Updated 23 June 2016

A teen who lost her leg to cancer has defied the odds to become a competitive dancer.

Gabi Shull feared her dancing days were over when she had her leg amputated.

But thanks to groundbreaking rotationplasty surgery, the 14-year-old bone cancer survivor has been able to dance once more.

She is now using her experiences to help other young people fighting cancer achieve their dreams.

Andrew Thomas / Barcroft Images
Gabi Shull can dances again thanks to groundbreaking surgery. 

Gabi was diagnosed with osteosarcoma in March 2011, when she was just nine years old.

Her knee was removed and her foot was rotated 180 degrees and reattached to her upper leg – with her ankle serving as her knee.

She was fitted with a prosthetic lower leg and took her first steps a year later.

Gabi, from Missouri, America, can now bend and flex her prosthesis by moving her foot.

She said: "After I had my leg amputated the first call was to just get me walking again and get me out of the hospital bed.

"But what motivated me to walk was the thought of dancing again because I just wanted to dance."

Andrew Thomas / Barcroft Images
Gabi shortly after having an amputation. 

Gabi, who started dancing when she was six, first realised there was a problem with her knee after falling on it while ice-skating.

At first her parents thought it was just bruised, but after two weeks without improvement they took her to hospital for an x-ray.

Initially doctors believed she had sustained a stress fracture, but an MRI scan a few weeks later showed that she had cancer.

Gabi’s mum, Debbie Shull, said: "We went to the doctor and he told us the news. He said, ‘your daughter has what we think could be cancer. A type of cancer called Osteosarcoma’.

"We were shocked. He had to repeat what he said because I didn’t believe him. I didn’t think my ears heard him correctly.

"Gabi asked me why this had happened to her and we said you know sometimes bad things happen to good people, we don’t know why but we have to do our best to get through it - and that’s what we did."

Gabi embarked on 12 weeks of chemotherapy to shrink the tumour to an operable size. 

She was offered different treatments and amputations but the family chose the rare rotationplasty surgery to allow her optimum mobility and movement.

Andrew Thomas / Barcroft Images

Debbie said: "We talked about it with Gabi and we started looking at videos of kids roller blading, rock climbing, water skiing after having a rotationplasty.

"We learned that there are absolutely no cons to rotationplasty except the way it looks and if you can get past that and focus on your quality of life then you’ve gained everything and have lost nothing.

"There are about 12 rotationplasty surgeries every year in the United States, it’s just not a common surgery."

Gabi is now fully comfortable with her leg, but it took some time to adjust.

"Now my ankle acts as my knee joint," she said. "It lets me do things that I might not be able to do with other surgeries like dancing or cheering, rock climbing, ice skating."

The recovery process was difficult for Gabi, but she was determined to get back on her feet. 

She added: "It was painful at first. I was afraid to put weight on my leg and then I had to get the motion back in my ankle because it was frozen at 90 degrees.

"It took me about a year and several personal trainer sessions to take my first steps without any assistance and a year after that I was dancing on stage again.

"The surgery has allowed me to do so much more than I expected and I would never go back and change it."

Now Gabi is dancing competitively and she is an inspiration to her dance teachers and fellow students.

Andrew Thomas / Barcroft Images
Gabi and her mum Debbie. 

She is also using her experiences to help others through The Truth 365, a social media campaign that gives a voice to children suffering from cancer.

The campaign raises awareness of childhood cancer and Gabi is the national spokesperson. 

Her mother Debbie said: "She has done so much more than anybody expected.

"She is a determined kid and none of us view her as disabled. At times we forget that she has the prosthetic."

Gabi has even bigger dreams for the future. She said: "When I am older I would like specialise in paediatrics at colleges or work as a nurse or scientist looking to help find a cure for cancer.

"If I can beat cancer and live with a prosthetic leg and learn to do everything again - then I believe I can do anything."

For more information about The Truth 365 go to

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