Mallory’s journey back to ballet one year after hip surgery

April 1, 2021

Photo courtesy of Allen Kramer (Texas Children's Hospital)

As a young girl growing up with two older siblings, Mallory Sweeney had big dreams of one day pursuing her childhood passion – becoming a professional dancer. Since enrolling in her first dance class at the age of 3, Mallory’s love for dancing has grown by leaps and bounds. Today, ballet is a huge part of her life.

“I had two older sisters who took up dance,” Mallory said. “As a child, I’d go with my mom to accompany my sisters to their dance competitions. Then, I realized how much I wanted to dance, too. I wanted to be just like my older sisters, as any young sibling does. From a very young age, I pursued all forms of dance including ballet, tap, jazz and lyrical dance. I tried to maintain all of these different kinds of dances for a long time. But, as you get older in the dance world, you have to choose a path, whether that be theater, commercial, contemporary or ballet. Ultimately, I chose ballet because of its unique style and movements.”

As a 19-year-old, elite-level ballerina, Mallory is now a dance student at the prestigious Houston Ballet Academy where she has trained for the last year. For Mallory, being able to resume her love for dancing has been a dream come true. In the fall 2019, she had to hang up her pointe shoes due to hip problems.

“My hip bothered me when I performed certain dance movements,” Mallory said. “At first, my family and I thought the pain was due to me dancing a lot since I was getting ready for a performance. When the pain got worse, I was referred to Texas Children’s, where I met my sports medicine specialist, Dr. Joseph Chorley. Thinking I either had an iliopsoas muscle issue or a labral tear, he suggested I undergo physical therapy first to see if that eased the pain before considering surgery as my next option. While I underwent physical therapy for six weeks, the hardest part for me was putting my dancing on hold during PT.”

In addition to physical therapy, Mallory had diagnostic injections to help reduce inflammation in her hip. When none of these therapeutics improved her condition, Mallory was referred to Dr. Scott Rosenfeld for surgical care evaluation. She was nervous about undergoing hip surgery. While she knew she was making a significant decision about her future career in dance, she ultimately decided to take the risk so she would be able to dance without the extreme pain she was experiencing. In the end, Mallory knew hip surgery would be the best treatment approach to improve her chances of dancing without the pain.

“Mallory’s condition was unique in that her hip abnormality was located in the back of the hip joint,” said Rosenfeld, director of Texas Children’s Hip Preservation Program. “She had more problems with hip extension and external rotation activities. She was having what’s called impingement where there was abnormal contact between two parts of the hip joint - the femur and the acetabulum. One of the things we’re able to do at Texas Children’s is offer surgical techniques that are suited for each patient’s needs.”

In Oct. 2019, Dr. Rosenfeld performed Mallory’s delicate, 6-hour surgery to repair her labral tear, an injury to the labrum, which is the soft tissue that covers the acetabulum (socket) of the hip. Mallory had extra bone that developed over time on her femoral neck and head which doctors say contributed to her labral tear. Part of the surgery involved dislocating Mallory’s hip to give Dr. Rosenfeld enough room to shave off the extra bone on the back of her femoral neck to fix her hip abnormality. Following surgery, Mallory spent eight weeks on crutches and worked closely with her physical therapists, Nick Purcell and Danielle Farzanegan, to restore basic range of motion and mobility to the hip joint to promote optimal healing.

“The first four months after surgery were really tough on me,” Mallory said. “I’m a very independent person so depending on someone to help me do things was definitely an adjustment. I’m thankful for my mom, my family and my care team at Texas Children’s for supporting me every step of the way. It’s been one year since my hip surgery, and I am doing great. I’m back to 100 percent. When I see the incredible progress I’ve made, I am so grateful to my physicians, Dr. Chorley and Dr. Rosenfeld, and my physical therapists who helped me get to where I am today. Because of them, I have a bright future ahead of me.”

Mallory is looking forward to auditioning with ballet companies across the country to participate in their summer dance programs. In fact, this summer she enrolled in a virtual, two-week program with the American Ballet Theatre in New York and then she’ll head to Columbus, Ohio for a 6-week intensive with Ballet Met, a professional ballet company and dance studio where she’ll perform for theater audiences. Next year, Mallory will dance in Ballet Met’s professional trainee program, which will be a huge milestone for her because it will officially mark the start of her professional career.

“This entire journey – going through surgery, physical therapy and overcoming physical and mental struggles – has made me an even stronger person,” Mallory said. “After my dance career, I am thinking about possibly getting into physical therapy because of my experience with my physical therapists at Texas Children’s. I want to be the person who can help other dancers recover from their injuries, too.”

Click here to watch video about Mallory’s journey back to ballet. Click here to learn more about Texas Children’s Hip Preservation Program and click here to learn more about our Sports Medicine Program.

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Mallory Sweeney