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Corrie’s back

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Corrie Aldrich

Corrie Aldrich

Corrie Aldrich

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The dim hallway seemed to stretch to the other side of the world as she listed to the left, her tired, pain-wracked legs trudging slowly along. This was the reality for student Corrie Aldrich last semester when the simple act of walking had become nearly unendurable.

Although many knew Aldrich as a loving, passionate and comfortable person, she was struggling with something that was becoming harder for her to ignore. Aldrich has had problems with her back for much of her life. “I worked in restaurants and customer service for a number of years and have been overweight for all of my life,” said Aldrich. “It took a toll on me.”

Aldrich’s back troubles became significantly worse in January of 2017. After attempting to treat her pain with physical therapy and a cortisone shot with little improvement, she had an MRI and found she had an L4 L5 herniated disc pushing on nerves down her left leg. She then had disc herniation surgery last June.

Following this first surgery, Aldrich returned to Johnson, but in a few months the troubles started again. While working on the production “Antigone: Red Feed Blue Feed” in November, her injury threatened her ability to do what she loves most. “I had to quit two shows that I was starting and that really put me into a little depression,” she said. “I would wake up in the morning and, honest to God, think I was paralyzed from the waist down. I wasn’t sure I could stand. It was terrifying. I would just lay there and cry.”

Thanks to the ongoing support of a network of friends, faculty and staff, however, Aldrich was able to finish the fall semester despite her often-severe pain and has now returned to her true love: the theater. Those who know her are relieved to have her back.

“In class, she has a wonderful, engaged presence that raises up the discussion level of the class as a whole. She has such a commitment and a love for theater,” said Professor of Fine and Performing Arts Isaac Eddy.

Despite that gnawing, chronic pain last fall, she was able to make her friends smile and bring some light to their days. She was still the same easygoing person with a ready smile, warm eyes and a raucous laugh, prone to randomly breaking into song with her friends soon joining in.

“Honestly, her personality is so much of a sunshine in my life, even when she’s having a rough time, that I think she helped me more than I could ever help her,” said Jessica DeRosa, a friend of Aldrich’s who works with her in Dibden.

Many were happy to help her through this difficult time and wanted to see her pull through. Aldrich noted how her friend Troy McCabe used to walk her out to her car to make sure she wouldn’t fall. Her friend Mia would, without Aldrich even knowing, brush the snow off her car. Her friend Nicole helped her put her socks and shoes on.

Some of Aldrich’s teachers and her Dibden boss made a few accommodations for her while she was struggling to help her get through the fall semester. “Because she is always so on top of her work, in class and in our stage productions, accommodating her and allowing her to turn work in late was a no-brainer,” said Eddy.

Aldrich’s ongoing back woes progressed to the point that being able to work in Dibden had become a problem. “I can work in the theater and get paid for it, which is amazing, but I was worried I wouldn’t be able to do that because I could hardly lift anything,” said Aldrich. “My boss, Jason Eckenroth, worked with me to make sure I could still make some money and still feel welcomed in the theater I love.”

Without the support she received from her friends and some staff members, most agree it’s unlikely Aldrich would have been able to get through the last few weeks of the semester. “There was just certain amounts of things that she couldn’t have done alone,” said McCabe.

Despite that help, the situation last fall was clearly unsustainable.

She was approved for another MRI and Doctor Martin Krag from the UVM Medical Center found out her back pain was caused by the same disc as before. Aldrich is in the 5-10 percent range of people who get the first surgery and their bodies don’t accept it.

She was required to attend a special educational class to learn the risks of this procedure and was at least 30 years younger than any of the other few people in the workshops.

Aldrich ended up getting the second surgery over winter break — an L4 L5 bone fusion. On Jan. 12, they took out the entire disc and then used OptiMesh.

The operation required four incisions on her back, along with two titanium rods and four screws on each side of her spine to hold it in place. She experienced discomfort throughout her whole body from being contorted on the surgery table and had a sore throat from the breathing tube for a long time after the surgery.

Aldrich required emotional support through this process just as much as she needed physical support. She looked to some of her close friends at the college, among them her friend Leah Egnaczyk, an R.A. They talked nearly every day and Egnaczyk made sure to remind Aldrich that everything was going to be okay.

“I think it’s super important to help people who are going through a rough time, no matter if it’s physical or mental, because I think we all have times when we need to lean on others because we can’t go through life alone, and it’s better for everyone to have someone,” said DeRosa.

Aldrich is now standing straight and is able to stroll on her own. She still has a lot of physical therapy ahead of her, and although she’s not the biggest fan of physical therapy, she is grateful that it seems to be working for now and her recent checkup appointments have gone well.

“I’m very happy to see her upright and better,” said McCabe. “People feed off others’ energy, so when someone who has been down in the dumps for a while is able to pick themselves up and feel happy again, it reenergizes everyone else.”

With the worst now behind her, Aldrich is once again fully immersed in the life of Dibden. She has already worked on the production “Big Love” and is now working on current and upcoming productions such as “Nine,” “Clockwork Orange,” and many more.

For Aldrich, that long dim hallway has become an easy walk in the light.

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