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  • July 11, 2014 - Reflections

    By Jean S. Horner
    The other day while walking down a corridor in a public building, I saw what appeared to be someone walking toward me. On coming closer, I found it was my own reflection in a huge mirror. For a moment it frightened me. Somehow a full-length reflection of one’s self is a startling thing. ...

A Miracle for Kierra

By Amy Denny
Nov. 16, 2014

Being in junior high is hard enough.

Being in junior high as a sixth-grader when your school reorganizes is hard too. Especially when the reorganization means junior high changes from seventh and eighth grade to become sixth through eighth grade.

“It was not what I was expecting,” Kierra Henke says. “Eighth-graders on the bus would call us mean names, even if we weren’t doing anything to them.”

In many respects, Kierra is a typical central Illinois girl. Long brown hair. Braces. Loves church and her family. Enjoys roller coasters, camp, ice cream, and the St. Louis Cardinals.

In a lot of ways, she is different.

And bullies notice different.

Kierra was supposed to wear a very bulky back brace. It fit over her clothing, was uncomfortable, and made it difficult to do just about everything.

“It hurt my hips and my armpits,” Kierra says. “I had trouble carrying books. I felt like a klutz.”

Kierra had to take the brace off for physical education class and put it back on afterward. She had to lie on the floor to get it back on.

Kierra’s mom, Kendra, wanted her daughter to keep wearing the brace to protect her back. But she also wanted as much as Kierra for her daughter to feel normal.


Kierra was 10 and in the midst of a growth spurt when Kendra, a nurse, noticed something was wrong with Kierra’s shoulder. A medical diagnosis confirmed Kierra had scoliosis, or curvature of the spine. She would need to wear a back brace to keep her spine from curving more than it already had.

Kierra wore her first brace without any problems. She was given access to the teacher’s lounge for a private space to put the brace back on after gym class. Braces are used to stop curves from getting worse, typically when someone is still growing and the curve is more than 25-30 degrees.

Kierra’s curve was in the 30s when she was diagnosed. But in October 2012, after she’d stopped wearing the brace to school, an X-ray showed the curve had worsened to the 50s or even 60s.

“Her lungs looked smaller,” Kendra recalled after seeing the comparison of X-rays from one year to the next. “She said, ‘No wonder I was having trouble breathing.’”

Scoliosis and its complications don’t come on suddenly. Curvature can be dangerous for organs, like the lungs and heart, because the spine puts pressure on them. It can even cause organs to shift.

The change in curvature degree meant one thing: Kierra would need surgery.

“I ran out the door and turned back, and (my mom) was crying,” Kierra recalled.

A visit to Shriners Hospital in St. Louis in February 2013 confirmed Kierra would need surgery, and she was placed on a waiting list.


Immediately prayers were sought. A Facebook page — A miracle for Kierra — had already been created to keep family and friends updated on her situation and ask for prayer. The Henkes’ church, Prairie Temple Assembly of God (Virden, Ill.), faithfully prayed for Kierra.

Derrick and Kendra Henke put their summer plans on hold, knowing they might have only four to five weeks’ notice of Kierra’s surgery. But they did allow Kierra to attend church camp. Kierra was miserable. Her left arm hurt constantly.

The family contacted Shriners Hospital again, and the surgery was scheduled for Aug. 12, 2013.

The operation would involve fusing together bones in the spine. Doctors would also put in metal rods and screws to help keep Kierra’s body straight after surgery.


The Henkes arrived at Shriners Hospital at 5:30 a.m. on Aug. 12. By then, Kierra’s curvature was between 70 and 75 degrees.

Derrick and Kendra’s faith was strong, and they believed they knew what to expect. The first updates indicated the surgery was progressing well. At noon, they were told the screws were in and that it would probably be more than two hours before the next update. Surgeons were going to begin putting in rods.

After returning from lunch, the Henkes expected another report; but by 2:30 p.m. they hadn’t heard anything. At 2:45, Kendra still felt certain everything was fine.

At 2:50, Dr. Michael Kelly came to the waiting room with an update. “There’s been a complication,” he said. “She isn’t able to move her legs.”

During Kierra’s surgery, computers had alarmed surgeons that something was wrong. Her spinal cord wasn’t responding to the surgery. They woke up Kierra, discovered she couldn’t feel her legs, put her back under and then removed the screws.

The decision was made to transport Kierra to nearby Children’s Hospital.

“I was lying in the recovery room when in come two men in blue jumpsuits with a stretcher,” Kierra wrote later in an essay for school. “I knew what was happening from watching medical shows; I was being airlifted. I was quickly taken outside to the helicopter.”

Kendra had a moment of panic. “I saw the blue jumpsuits, and I literally buckled. I thought, ‘Why are they flying her. It’s only eight miles?’” she says.

Kendra shouted “I love you” to Kierra, and she saw her daughter’s hand from inside the helicopter raise to give her the “I love you” sign.

Kierra spent 11 days in the hospital — two in intensive care — before she was released in a wheelchair. She used a walker and underwent extensive therapy while she continued to gradually gain back the feeling and use in her legs.

On Oct. 14, Kierra underwent a second surgery. By then, her spine had curved even more and was in the 80s. The surgery was successful.

Through it all, Kierra says there was never a doubt in her mind God was by her side. The entire ordeal only strengthened her faith.

X-rays before the second surgery showed progress that couldn’t medically be explained — something the Henkes know is from God. Kendra says Kierra recovered more quickly than expected from her surgery and has amazed everyone with her recovery.

Kierra no longer has to wear a brace or any assistive devices. She does have limitations — she is not to twist her body or lift anything greater than 10 pounds. But she has returned to a normal life, and she gained 2.5 inches after the surgery.

“The prayers held us up when nothing else would,” Kendra says. “Kierra’s a walking testimony, and we praise God every time we talk about it.

“When Dr. Kelly came in the waiting room after the surgery, he told us, ‘Thank you for having faith in me,’ Derrick corrected him and said, ‘No our faith is in God; we had confidence in you.’”

Reprinted with permission from Mighty Strong Girls, Spring 2014. For more information, visit

AMY DENNY is founder and publisher of Mighty Strong Girls magazine.


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