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Packer Weekly: Dangerous birth defect goes unnoticed for 17 years

By Elsa Bollinger

Senior Aubrey Wagar has been living the past 17 years of her life cheating paralysis. Everything Aubrey did risked her life, and no one knew until last fall. If it was not for a trip to Aubrey’s orthodontist for braces, she would still be living in danger every day.

After taking an X-ray at the orthodontist, Aubrey and her family discovered something that changed their life.

“There was this really strange curve on my neck that showed up on the X-ray,” Aubrey said describing the moment she can still clearly remember. “[My orthodontist] could tell that it was a lot more different than other things he had seen before.”

Aubrey decided to see her family doctor, and eventually a neurosurgeon. After going through numerous scans, they discovered she had been living with a birth defect in her neck since she was born, despite never feeling pain.

“The thought of having the birth defect lingered because we really didn’t know anything about it,” Aubrey said.

Aubrey had a 70 degree opening between two disks in her neck, with floating vertebrae. For Aubrey’s mother, Sharon, the thought of the birth defect was strange.

“I was thinking that it wasn’t a normal looking neck,” Sharon said. “Aubrey had no pain, discomfort, or any strange feelings in her neck for 17 years.”

Aubrey decided to do surgery right away to stabilize her neck.

“If we opted to wait, any little jar to the neck could send the floating vertebrae into the spinal column and end up causing paralysis,” Sharon said. “We opted for the stabilization surgery without any hesitation.”

Aubrey had surgery on Sept. 20th. If she waited, Aubrey risked paralysis with simply getting bumped while playing a sport, being in a car accident, or any other high-impact situations, but she was involved in all of those situations.

“The neurosurgeon was speechless,” Sharon said. “How her body compensated is a mystery to all of us and we walked out of the first visit with the neurosurgeon going ‘oh, wow.’”

After surgery, Aubrey was informed that she was to wear a neck brace all hours of the day to stabilize her neck.

“I became accustomed to the neck brace,” Aubrey said. “It took a little bit though because it was hard to figure out how to sleep and what not.”

Aubrey said that her family has been a great support to her for during this situation.

“She was a little self-conscious about being in public with the brace on, but she did a very good job at becoming more accustomed,” Sharon said.

Aubrey’s brace was removed on Dec. 19th after three months. Through the whole situation, Aubrey has taken a new perspective on life.

“You grow stronger going through stuff like this,” Aubrey said. “When I never knew about my neck, I just lived life. But now looking at it, I could have died easily from any injury.”

“We have been very lucky that nothing bad ever happened prior to the birth defect being found,” Sharon said. “You certainly can never assume that someone who appears to be completely healthy actually is.”

(The Packer Weekly is an ongoing column authored by journalism students at West Fargo High School with the intent of providing awareness about and insight into a variety of school-related topics and activities. For additional information visit