20-year-old Gianna Forte and 9-year-old Kenzie Glasgow were both born with an omphalocele, a condition that causes an infant's intestine or other abdominal organs to grow outside of the body. 

By Maressa Brown
January 30, 2019
Ballet Shoes
Credit: Plush Design Studio via Unsplash

January 30, 2019

A little girl and a ballet dancer in Washington, D.C. recently forged a very special bond. 20-year-old Gianna Forte, a dancer with the Washington Ballet, and 9-year-old Kenzie Glasgow were both born with the same rare birth defect: an omphalocele. When a child is born with the condition, her intestine or other abdominal organs grow outside of the body due to a hole in the belly button area. The intestines are covered only by a thin layer of tissue and can be easily seen.

When Gianna was born, she was rushed into emergency surgery, and her organs were placed inside her. Since then, she's lived a normal life, becoming a professional ballet dancer. But WCNC reports that in March of last year, the dancer tore a labrum in her hip, which lead to a surgery that irritated the young woman's organs, causing them to twist. She began to suffer from pneumonia and sepsis, a dangerous infection to the blood that can be fatal. And within nine days, she had five major surgeries. 

Gianna is a fighter, though. Her health care providers even gave her the nickname "The Beast." And when she returned to the stage in November 2018, her survival and strength was an inspiration to many, including 9-year-old Kenzie Glasgow, who was also born with an omphalocele.

“I thought it was really cool she had an omphalocele too, and now she’s a really, really awesome ballerina,” Kenzie told the local D.C. outlet.

Kenzie's mom, Brooke, had heard about Forte's journey and reached out to the dancer and her mother, Jodi, hoping to arrange a meet-and-greet for her daughter. The ballet dancer quickly became a role model for Kenzie, who was called "The Feisty One" by her doctors.

"I want [Kenzie] to always be proud and rock it, and she is going to see how you do that," Brooke told WCNC. 

Jodi shared that she wish she had been able to connect with other parents and kids dealing with omphalocele. Twenty years ago, when the world wasn't nearly as connected via the internet, that seemed like an impossibility. “We didn’t ever have a connection with anyone who had this,” Jodi explained.

Thanks to this meeting, these mothers and daughters now, finally, have that connection. And they couldn't be more thrilled. As Jodi said, “Just to know that we were able to change someone’s life for the better is a really good feeling.”