The star pitcher of Libby High School’s Softball team this past season was born with idiopathic scoliosis, causing her spine to curve, and potentially fatal.
When Khalyn Hagness was entering 7th grade, she was already active in basketball, volleyball, track and softball. It wasn’t slowing her down, but the curve in her spine came up during her sports physical, measuring at 23 degrees.
Initially, Kindra and Jeremy Hageness didn’t know what to do about a condition that wasn’t even causing discomfort for their active child.
Childhood friend and fellow athlete Sidney Stevenson met Khalyn in first grade, and remembers a friendship always on the move.
“We always did things we weren’t supposed to do,” she said.
“You wore out about three trampolines,” Jeremy said.
When they first found out about her condition, it wasn’t very bad yet, Khalyn said. “We didn’t really have to do much with it at the time, and then it progressively just kind of got worse.”
The family started working with Shriners Hospitals for Children. Every six months, Khalyn was back, and the prognosis only got worse.
They took her to a chiropractor in Washington, who fitted her with a brace she had to wear 23 hours a day — even when doing sports.
“I was not a huge fan of that,” Khalyn said.
Her condition worsened, and when the brace wore out, they began looking for other options.
The family received a recommendation for a specialist at Twin City Spine in Minneapolis, Kindra said. In her 8th grade year, Khalyn’s spine already had over 60 degrees of curvature.
The specialist recommended surgery, telling them that within ten years, Khalyn could be struggling just to breath.
One of the most difficult parts for Khalyn was the restrictions she had after surgery.
“I’m not very good at sitting out of things,” she said.
Making matters more difficult, she had drawn a moose tag that year, Jeremy said.
“We asked the doctor how long until she could shoot a gun. He said he’d never been asked that question,” Jeremy said.
She may have not been completely cleared to shoot a rifle, let alone a .308, but Khalyn wasn’t going to miss out on such a rare opportunity.
It took her three shots — the first hit the muzzle just stunning the moose — and as the initial excitement faded, Jeremy went over to check on his daughter’s back.
“She said, ‘Dad, my back’s OK, but my legs are still shakin.’”
When they went down and saw the size of the moose, her first words were to jokingly remind her dad that she was limited to lifting no more than 15 pounds, he said.
But getting a release to play sports took a bit more, keeping Khalyn from competing for six months. She missed freshman volleyball and most of the basketball season.
Stevenson is proud of how her friend came back, especially going into high school competition for the first time after a season off, she said. “She just didn’t care. She just kept going.”
But even six months after surgery, Khalyn still gave her mom a scare during her first game, Kindra said. “She stands there and tries to draw the charge.”
Khalyn still remembers the stern words her mom had for her after the game.
Khalyn comes from an active family, and both of her older sisters are athletes.
Lexie Hageness, who is six years older, remembers a sister who “always finds a way around it,” when she wants to do something.
“She was your typical little sister. Annoying,” Lexie teased.
But, as the sisters have become adults, the three spend a lot more time together, Lexie said.
Lexie is proud of her sister’s determination, she said. “She took it on, and came out strong.”
As someone who grew up in a close family that does a lot together, Khalyn said she finds a similar appeal in sports.
“I just really enjoy being in teams and just working together with people. And so I really didn’t want to lose that,” she said.
Even when she couldn’t play, Khalyn was a manager.
There’s an appeal in both knowing her team is there for her, and in being there for her teammates, she said. “There’s just a kind of bond you make with your team that you can’t really find anywhere else.
Just keep going
After the surgery to fuse the vertebrae in her upper spine, Khalyn still has things to deal with, from sore muscles to the rod that sticks up near the back of her neck.
Sometimes her hips pop out of socket. “It’s just kind of sore, then — just keep going,” she said.
It is likely the pressure on her lower vertebrae will speed up deterioration as she ages, Khalyn said.
She can never play any full-contact sports, Jeremy said.
Any kind of accident, like a car accident or a spill skiing, could lead to serious injury, with the rods in her back that won’t give, Kindra said.
But none of that has changed how Khalyn approaches life.
“My mom’s the one who tells me what I shouldn’t be doing,” she said. “If it was up to me, I’d probably still do, whatever I, kind of, would like.”
Like most teenagers, Khalyn may think she’s invincible at times, Kindra said.
“Nah, not so much invincible. I just want to live,” Khalyn said.
Her experience has made her want to study nursing, both from learning about the human body and dealing with nurses.
In sports, Khalyn already helps others, working with the younger girls — even those on other teams — and she is active in programs mentoring younger students.
Khalyn said that when she can help someone else succeed, her desire is to give that help.
She doesn’t presume she knows what is happening in someone’s life, or what they might be struggling with that isn’t obvious on the outside.
“You don’t ever really know what somebody’s going through, so the way they react might be the same way you would in a situation like that,” she said. “You never know.”