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Dance Prodigy Jaycee Wilkins Diagnosed with Perthes Disease

Jaycee Wilkins and Tate McRae shot an improv video in LA for their YouTube channel, JT Series. Photo courtesy of McRae.

Imagine being 13 years old, one of the top dancers, even the recipient of Junior Best Dancer at The Dance Awards this past summer. You may feel on top of the world. But then, just a few months later, you hear devastating news that will leave you unable to dance, even wheelchair-bound, for about a year…

This is the story of Jaycee Wilkins, who, in September, was diagnosed with Perthes disease. This disease, most commonly occurring in young children ages four to 12 years old, is a rare condition of the hip bone.

Yuriko Nabeta, a physical therapist at Harkness Center for Dance Injuries in New York City, explains, “The cause of the disease is unfortunately unknown. But what’s known is that for someone with this disease, the blood supply to the hip bone is reduced. There’s a growth plate in the head of the femur bone, and it grows at a young age, and with the Perthes disease, the plate doesn’t get enough blood supply and so the bone dies. And, as a result, the head becomes very fragile, painful and very stiff.”

Tate McRae and Jaycee Wilkins first met at NYCDA in NYC in 2013.

Tate McRae and Jaycee Wilkins first met at NYCDA in NYC in 2013. Photo courtesy of McRae.

“When I first heard that I had Perthes disease, I was scared because I didn’t know what it was,” Jaycee admits. “I knew my mom was scared, so I was very worried.”

Dr. Nabeta explains that this condition cannot heal by just resting. Often, conservative or surgical treatment is required to control pain, increase range of motion and also to reduce the risk of permanent deforming of the femoral head.

Since Jaycee’s diagnosis, she has not been able to dance, was put on crutches and was not allowed to put weight on her left leg. She and her family will have to undergo two surgeries, flights across the country (they have found a top specialist in Florida), hotel bills and recovery costs. Upon surgical treatments, Jaycee will have to wear an external fixator, attached to her leg and hip bone to aid in the bone’s growth, for four months. She will have to use a wheelchair and later crutches to get around and be closely monitored. Once the fixator is removed, she will wear a brace for six months, and then again only at night. Jaycee will have to learn how to use her muscles to walk again, and she’ll do much physical therapy in and out of the water.

To aid in the financial stress of such a dire situation, Tate McRae, a Capezio Athlete and Jaycee’s best friend, has set up a Go Fund Me campaign to raise money for Jaycee and her family.

“In July, I won money for winning The Dance Awards,” Tate explains. “I gave that money to Jaycee to help her get better. I live far away from her, so I cannot go hang out with her to cheer her up. Plus, putting the Go Fund Me campaign out there has made people aware of what is happening to Jaycee and what Perthes is.”

Although there may be no known cause for this specific disease, Dr. Nabeta hopes that this story does serve as a wake-up call to young dancers.

“They should report to their teachers or parents if they’re in pain,” Dr. Nabeta advises. “It seems so easy, but it’s not because younger dancers don’t always know or don’t always report their pain because the last thing they want to do is stop dancing because of pain, or they’re scared of disappointing their teachers or parents. So a dancer with pain should know that it’s okay to rest when they’re hurting.”

“The only thing I wish I would have done differently is listen to my hip when it hurt and had been more vocal about it,” Jaycee admits.

In addition, parents and teachers can monitor children in pain. “They can look for signs of Perthes, including limping with walking, pain with running or sports activities, and limited and painful range of motion in the affected hip,” Dr. Nabeta adds.

The night Jaycee and Tate found out they both won Junior Best Dancer 2015 at The Dance Awards.

The night Jaycee and Tate found out they both won Junior Best Dancer 2015 at The Dance Awards. Photo courtesy of McRae.

“You can’t really prevent [Perthes disease],” explains Kelli Wilkins, Jaycee’s mother and owner of Club Dance Studio. “I do wish that I had been more aggressive with getting X-rays and an MRI at the first sight of pain.”

While overstretching or overusing the hip may not cause Perthes disease, Dr. Nabeta says that it could make an existing symptom worse. Children with Perthes disease should avoid forceful stretching such as hip abduction (side splits, for example) and hip internal rotation (toeing in).

“It should be a part of a dancer routine to warm up before classes and check to make sure they are feeling good enough to do certain movements for the day,” Dr. Nabeta remarks. “If a body part feels painful or ‘different’ from usual, they need to learn not to push through the pain or the unusual sensation.”

From witnessing Jaycee’s condition, Tate says she has learned how important it is for dancers to listen to their body.

“You know when something is not right,” she adds. “As well, you need to be balanced! Have more in your life than just dance. Go to a movie with your friends, do your math homework, go on a vacation with your family. If you become injured and all you know is dance, then your world will crumble. If you know you love to do other things, then it will be easier to handle.”

While the road to recovery may be a long, trying one for Jaycee, there are high hopes and strong probability that she will return to her high level of dancing. And she has remained positive throughout, which is bound to help. She also has the comfort in knowing that many people and other young dancers are rooting for her.

“You are one of the strongest people I know, and I know you will get through this,” Tate tells Jaycee. “I know you will do something amazing with your year, even if it is not dancing! I know dancing is what made us meet, but now our friendship is much more than just dance.”

“I always remember in convention classes hearing the teachers say to dance like it was your last night dancing, like if you woke up tomorrow and couldn’t dance, how would you dance right now?” Jaycee concludes. “Well, honestly, I never thought that would happen to me, but then it did. So I now know not to take anything for granted. I know when I do dance again, I will appreciate it and treasure every moment of it.”

To support Jaycee and her road to her recovery, donate at her Go Fund Me page.

By Laura Di Orio of Dance Informa.

Photo (top): Jaycee Wilkins and Tate McRae shot an improv video in LA for their YouTube channel, JT Series. Photo courtesy of McRae.

13 Comments

13 Comments

  1. Grace

    Nov 19, 2015 at 6:28 pm

    You are a strong girl and I wish that one day I can be as strong as you. I suck at dancing so that should of happened to me because your way better at dancing. Your so pretty and so good at dancing and so nice and loving. I wish I can meet you one day because your an insprashon to everyone and for sure me your are a beautiful dancing and it’s terrible what happend to you I wish I chould help you but I live to far away and I don’t have money not even a penny LOL so I can’t. Sorry what happend to you and I hope you feel better soonps can you follow me on Instagram please (marygracesnow)thank you grace☺️

  2. Grace

    Nov 19, 2015 at 6:37 pm

    I’m so sorry what happened to you it’s so terrible your a better dancer than I am so it should of been me not you your so loving nice pretty and a beautiful dancer I’m so sorry and I wish I could meet you some day but I can’t because I live to far away and I have no money LOL I’m so sorry and if I happens to me I don’t no what I would do your a star to everyone and for sure me hope you feel better soon GRACE ps can you follow me on Instagram if you do this is what it is (marygracesnow) thank you

    Love
    Grace☺️

  3. Alyssa

    Nov 22, 2015 at 2:12 pm

    I’m sorry to hear about this Jaycee. This is a terrible thing that happened but I know you are strong and you will make a full recovery and you will still be a great dancer I know it. Stay positive and I hope u get better real soon ❤️ You are such a nice,positive,funny,pretty,confident,smart,and a great dancer that’s what makes you,you. FEEL BETTER JAYCEE and STAY POSITIVE❣

    Love,
    Alyssa

  4. Samarra Trice

    Nov 25, 2015 at 1:44 am

    Jaycee I know your going through alot right now and yes I agree with tate there are better things in life other than just dance and Im sure that something good will happen someday some things bad happen to people sometimes but I know good things come out of it and I will donate money because I really care about you and I want you to keep dancing and soon this whole thing will be over but always remember to think happy so don’t worry about the surgeries and all those scary things everyone is dying to see you dance again I loved those times when you were just a little girl you always were so silly and funny and you did the cutest dances at 9 years old so adorable!
    From Samarra

  5. Jazmin

    Dec 3, 2015 at 3:09 am

    Hi so I am aware what’s going up with Jaycee I just wanna say Jaycee however long you are out make sure you never quit dance!!! You are one heck of a dancer!!! Jaycee inspired me to dance after the watching her dance on shake it up and seeing a bunch of you tube videos!i have been self trained just to be u one day bc u are such a inspiration!! Now I attend a dance studio and some day wish to be u!! I will pray for u during my free time bc I want you back on ur feet dancer and I don’t want you to feel pain.. If u ever need to talk to me or anything or just to follow me bc I’m ur biggest fan my Instagram is : queen_of_jazmin

  6. Hannah

    Dec 18, 2015 at 7:02 am

    Your an amazing dancer and really kind
    I wish that I could be you so that you dont have to go threwthisYour my instapration I want to be as flexible as you,I want to dance like and and I want to you like you
    I love you Jaycee❤

  7. Elisa

    Dec 22, 2015 at 3:48 am

    Dear Jaycee, you are extremely talented with dancing, you inspire so many people. I hope you can get back to dancing and feel better, we all love you Your a beautiful dancer! And a strong brave girl. We all believe in you and you will be back to dancing ASAP!!! Luv you

  8. Alexa

    Dec 23, 2015 at 9:13 pm

    Jacyee you are such an amazing dancer you are my idol!!! I dance too but I wish I was just like you!! You are really pretty and much more!! I hope you get better and I know you will because you are a fighter and you will get better!! When you do I am going to be so happy for and cheering you out!!! I wish I could be there supporting you but I am doing it even though we’re far away!!! Also it would mean a lot to me if you followed me and also you guys on instragram. I am so sorry of what happened but you will get better and I’ll be here praying for you and one thing never forget that we have god with us!!! I hope you dance again you are such an amazingoing dancer!! I hope you readon’t this and follow me!! You are courageous and brave and I know that the Perth disease will go away!! Well get well soon Jacyee Wilkins!!! God bless you and your family!!!!!! Instragram: @alexaricosunshine

  9. Reese Frnka

    Dec 27, 2015 at 7:19 pm

    Dear Jaycee, You have been my biggest role model for many years (ever since djs mix). My first Instagram post was a picture of you and I said “this is my biggest role model isn’t she awesome.” I always used to go to Starbucks with my friends and ya know how sometimes you make up names well I always said my name is Jaycee. When I heard that you couldn’t dance anymore I felt so bad. I am a dancer too and I have gotten outstanding dancer and break out artist and crew at many conventions, but for some reason all I wanted to do is be as good as you. You are so happy and most of all a really great dancer. I saw you at NUVO recently and it was one of the best moments of my life. You were on crutches and I felt so so bad for you. I hope you feel better because I hate seeing my biggest role model like this. I know recovery will go well and you will go right back to dancing. I love you Jaycee -Reese

  10. Gabi Young

    Jan 3, 2016 at 12:30 am

    Hi! I really hope that Jaycee has a speedy recovery. I sent this article to my best friend, and e started crying. She remembers my obsession with Fresh Faces and Club Dance. You a truly an inspiration so stay strong!

  11. _.brynn.kalani._

    Jan 26, 2016 at 7:40 am

    Stay strong you are beautiful and we really hope you are back dancing soon we all love you jaycee

  12. Brittany

    Feb 1, 2016 at 8:55 am

    I really hope you Get well soon!!! We all are here for you and will donate as much as we can,stay strong beautiful!!!

  13. shawn

    Apr 23, 2016 at 8:42 pm

    hope you got better

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