Originally published in the Seymour Tribune – November 8, 2019
Music is more than a hobby for Amelia Gay. It has been a life jacket for the 16-year-old, keeping her afloat during the rough waters of her life.
She sings, plays guitar, piano and ukulele and just picked up the kalimba, a small wooden African instrument that sounds like a music box when she plucks the metal keys.
“I’ve been singing as long as I can remember,” she said. “I was singing as a toddler.”
Born with scoliosis, Gay and her family, who live in Hamilton Township in far northern Jackson County, have fought for her health, happiness and well-being.
Scoliosis is when a person’s spine or backbone curves sideways. It is a common condition that occurs most often in children during the growth spurt just before puberty.
“It’s whenever someone’s spine has an S curve,” Gay said.
Although most cases are mild with few symptoms, some children develop conditions that get more severe as they grow. Such was the case with Gay.
“My spine was pushing my ribs into my lungs,” she said.
Her scoliosis was causing her to have trouble breathing, which led to the need for spinal surgery in 2017 at the end of her eighth-grade year.
“That’s why I had to have the surgery because if I didn’t have it, I would be dead,” she said. “They manually shifted my spine to make it straight and put in two steel support rods so my spine won’t revert back to how it was.”
The rods give her better posture because they don’t allow her to slouch.
“The only time I really feel the metal rods in there is when the weather is shifting,” she said. “I’m a human barometer now.”
Although she went to public school through her freshman year of high school, Gay was forced to look at different options for schooling due to the pain and discomfort of her condition and the anxiety it caused her.
“Back then, I could not sit on hard surfaces for the seven hours I was required to,” she said. “And then my grades started going down, and that sent me into a depression, and I started having anxiety attacks.”
At one point, Gay was taking a final exam and had a mental breakdown, she said. That’s when she and her mother, Melinda, discovered Indiana Virtual School, an online school based in Indianapolis.
Gay completed her sophomore year through Indiana Virtual School, but the program was shut down due to allegations it had stolen money from the state based on exaggerated enrollment numbers.
That forced Gay to switch to Indiana Digital Learning School, another online public school that allows her to complete high school at home. But it’s not homeschooling.
“I actually get to socialize and go to class and hear my teachers talking,” she said.
“It’s an actual school,” Melinda added. “She has her teachers, she has a schedule and she actually socializes with other students.”
But the major advantage to the setup is she doesn’t have to sit in a hard chair at a desk all day.
“If she’s having a bad back day, she can be in her recliner and still do her work without everybody staring at her and wanting to know what is going on,” Melinda said. “It lets her body heal, and it’s a long healing process.”
Not only was her spine a problem, it led to issues with her hips, too, specifically in her sacroiliac joint.
“Basically, my hips get out of place sometimes,” she said. “So I have to go to a chiropractor to get readjusted so I can walk.”
Although she’s no longer in a school choir or band and doesn’t take lessons anymore, Amelia said making music is still a vital part of her life. It makes her feel better and gives her purpose, she said.
“I like the message because music can take you places words can’t,” she said. “I like how it’s calming and you can express yourself through the rhythm and how it sounds.”
When it comes to styles of music, Amelia said she likes and appreciates it all.
“My taste in music goes from Disney soundtrack to heavy metal,” she said.
She would like to find a local group to sing with but has been struggling since she doesn’t go to a brick and mortar school anymore, she said.
“She has been singing at church,” Melinda said.
Besides music, she also spends time with her animals, including many dogs, cats and rabbits. She actually breeds rabbits and sells them.
Now a junior in high school, Amelia is thinking about what her future may hold.
Recently, she completed a job shadowing opportunity at Fogerty Music Therapy in Bloomington. It was an experience that allowed her to share her passion in a way that helped other people.
“I sat in on one of the music sessions, and I just felt this click like I was meant to be there,” she said.
During the class, Amelia said she observed how music helped an adult male with autism deal with grief he was feeling over the death of his mom. She said the music helped the man open up, and soon, he was having a conversation with her.
Seeing the impact music had on him and knowing how it has helped her, Gay said she is interested in pursuing a career in music.
She wants others with scoliosis to know there is hope and a reason to keep moving.
“Honestly, I’m wanting my music to take me wherever God wants me to be,” she said. “Whether that’s in music therapy or leading youth groups or heck, even something like singing on a stage in front of millions of people.”
To learn more about Indiana Digital Learning School, visit https://indls.k12.com/ .