Spinal Surgery to Dancing Delight: Olivia Eng's Story

Olivia Eng - San Francisco Pilates Instructor / Dancer

Olivia Eng - San Francisco Pilates Instructor / Dancer

In August 2012 Olivia Eng had a very complicated and risky surgery to treat a congenital birth defect in her spine. When she discovered this news, it was devastating to her dance career. She had spent the last 15 years of her life dancing and performing as of mode of personal expression and employment. The birth defect that was diagnosed is called spondyloysis. The surgery required was very invasive. Surgeons had to fuse  L4 vertebrae to L5 to stabilize to stabilize it as an attempt to pull the vertebrae back to its natural position. This also meant removing the disc and putting a spacer between the vertebrae in which bone would eventually grow to connect the two vertebrae. To do this, five incisions were made, four in her back and one in her right side. One incision was made through her right psoas muscle where complications arose and injured nerves in the process. Our nervous system controls our motor movements which enable our extremities to be mobile. Due to bruised and injured nerves during the surgery, she was not longer able to move her right leg. Overnight, she went from walking and running to not being unable to bear any weight on her leg. Olivia had to use crutches for many months before she could begin to walk again. Her body mechanics became extremely awkward as she couldn't make her right leg move forward when she took a step. Her belly became extremely swollen from inflammation and she couldn't feel any muscular engagement from her core. She ultimately decided to use the rehab time to "self-heal" and learn Pilates extensively, with an ultimate goal to get back on stage and perform again, as dance was her passion. 

Slowly, through an intense Pilates program and along with her traditional physical therapy she started to come back into her body. In the beginning, she couldn't even hold her right leg up (when lying on her back with her knees bent and feet on the ground).  It was a long, grueling process of blood, sweat and tears, and many times Olivia felt helpless and wanted to give up. Little by little, day by day, she stayed disciplined and dedicated to her rehabilitation and slowly become stronger. She used her time in rehab to learn patience and many humbling life lessons as a result of it. She has completed her Stott Pilates comprehensive certification which lead her to her current career as an honored Pilates instructor. Now, almost 3 years later she is back on stage performing! Olivia currently dances for Duniya Drum and Dance Company where she performs a melange between traditional and contemporary forms of West African movement and Indian dance.

Recently, Olivia has also been given the opportunity to use her love for dance to empower kids.  In Olivia's words:

I have an amazing opportunity to go on a service trip to Panama to work with at-risk youth through dance! As some of you may know, I’ve been struggling to overcome and heal, as best as I can, a spinal deformity I was born with that required a serious surgery I still struggle to recover from. It hasn’t been an easy journey and I’ve been paying for medical costs and therapy out of my own pocket these past few years…but dance has never left my soul and has always kept me motivated and gave me fuel to keep going. Although I haven’t been involved in the dance community as much as I’d like to be again, I believe I still have a lot I can and will continue to give back. I would be so grateful for whatever you could contribute to help me go on this service trip to encourage and inspire less fortunate youth to never give up on their dreams. The funds would help with the transportation and lodging costs as well as provide sustainability for the programs at the orphanages and after school programs in Panama.

To donate to Olivia's cause or to learn more please click the button below:

Olivia continues to discover areas of improvement, feels stronger from deep within, and more aligned thanks to her Pilates programming. She continues to tune in, work on her daily practice daily, focuses on deep breathing and also takes time to tap into her spiritual practices. Olivia can definitely attest to the wonderful, healing benefits of Pilates and one of the greatest reasons she has been able to regain her strength and continue to pursue what she loves to do.