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Turlock woman ready to step into new life
Melinda Conley is hoping an innovative surgery performed in St. Louis will improve her ability to walk, which has been hampered by her Cerebral Palsy. - photo by Photo Contributed

The theme song from “The Wizard of Oz” tells us dreams come true over the rainbow, but Melinda Conley is hoping it’s just over the arch — the St. Louis Arch to be exact.

The Turlock resident was born with Cerebral Palsy and her spastic diplegia has made her ability to walk an ongoing struggle, but that could all be behind her soon as she embarks to St. Louis for an innovative surgery that could have her taking new strides in life.

Conley’s spastic diplegia has left the muscles in her legs to become extremely stiff and turn inward. She has undergone decades of physical therapy, leg braces, and orthopedic surgeries, which has allowed her to walk, though with a pronounced limp. Her scissor-like gait has caused a quicker deterioration on her other muscles and hips and Conley was recently told by her doctors that her days of independence and freedom from a wheelchair were going to come to an end sooner rather than later.

“I’m in my late 40s now and my body is breaking down,’ Conley explained. “The CP has caused my body to age prematurely and there is increased pain. They told me that I might not be able to walk for much longer.”

But the time for Conley to resign herself to a dependent life wasn’t the only option out there. Life was about to point Conley in a new direction.

“I had been following this CP Swagger on Fecebook and in one of the comments I read, a woman mentioned a surgery she had for her spastic diplegia."

The comment sparked Conley’s curiosity and led her to delve into research on selective dorsal rhizotomy.

Selective dorsal rhizotomy is a procedure that entails a neurosurgeon severing some of the sensory nerve fibers that come from the muscles and enter the spinal cord. Selective dorsal rhizotomy may be done to relieve muscle tightness and spasticity when CP severely affects the legs.

“It was like a light bulb went off,” Conley said of her discovery of what the surgery entailed. “When I saw a video of a woman walking who had had the surgery, I was blown away. That’s when I was sold.”

The procedure may also improve the range of movement in the legs. It is no guarantee and it does come with risks, including possible paralysis, but Conley is remaining optimistic.

“I’ve never been so excited for something that scares me to death,” Conley said.

The surgery is typically performed on children, though Conley’s neurosurgeon felt she was still an ideal candidate for the procedure.

“I initially didn’t tell anyone about it, because I wasn’t sure how much I wanted to get my hopes up,” Conley said. “I emailed the doctor and sent him my records and later a video of my gait. I flew out in August for consultation and at the end he said even though I was older than most of his patients, I would make for a fine candidate.

“I was really glad I learned all this in a hospital, because I just kind of melted in the lobby,” Conley said of learning she would have the surgery. “I realized a whole new chapter in my life was going to open up. I just cried and cried. From there I started making some phone calls and letting people know.”

The surgery is set for early December. Afterward, Conley will have to undergo physical therapy and teach herself how to walk again. Along the road to her new life Conley is anxious to hit a few of her personal milestones.

“They really are some basic things that most “normal” people take for granted,” Conley said. “Things like putting my jeans on while standing up or being able to bend over and tie my shoes.”

Speaking of shoes, Conley has a much smaller dream about her footwear.

“I have always had to wear shoes that have tied,” Conley said. “What I really want for once I am walking is a pair of dark chocolate riding boots. I can’t wait to walk around in a pair of those.”

Like most big dreams, Conley’s comes with a hefty price tag attached. The surgery and the required physical therapy, equipment, and follow-up care will likely run into the three figure range and Conley is unsure how much her insurance will cover. There is also the expense of getting to St. Louis and not just for herself. The hospital is stipulating that she stay in the area for at least a couple of weeks after she is released and wants her to have a caretaker at her side. Conley has two friends who have stepped up to help her and they are trying to raise the needed funds for the airplane tickets, the hotel, the food and other expenses.

“There is a potential for a lot of medical debt, but the outcome will be worth it,” Conley said.

To help with all those expenses, both the known and unexpected, Conley’s friend Michelle McCoy has established a go fund me account appropriately titled Melinda’s Dream. The account is specifically for raising the funds for the St. Louis trip and the expenses not covered by insurance. So far, they have raised just shy of $2,000.

“We are hoping God is going to help us meet the need,” said McCoy.

“I have been blown away that people have been so gracious in their giving,” Conley said. “I don’t want people to feel that they can’t help because of finances. Prayers and support mean so much as well. This has already brought so much into my life.”

The go fund me account for Conley can be found at