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I was originally diagnosed with mild scoliosis in middle school, but the doctors did not watch it closely, and my mom and I were told that we should do nothing. (In hindsight, we should have done a much better job of educating ourselves instead of relying on the doctors.) By the time we discovered the progression of the curves, they were big enough and I was old enough (sixteen) that surgery was the only option. Although we explored other avenues, such as chiropractic, rolfing, osteopathy, yoga and orthotic inserts for my shoes, I ultimately chose surgery. I have nothing against alternative medicine, but I wanted a permanent solution. I knew myself, and I knew I would need to be done and be able to move on. I know it was the right decision.

Just FYI:

  • I am fused from T3 to T10, which is the middle of my back. (Click here for a diagram of a spine with labelled vertebrae.)
  • My main curve (T1 to T10) went from 61 degrees before surgery to 30 degrees after surgery.
  • My lower curve (T10 to L3) went from 43 degrees to 26 degrees. It formed originally to compensate for the upper curve, so when the upper curve was straightened by surgery, the lower compensatory curve straightened itself. It’s truly amazing how the human body regulates itself so nicely.
  • My surgeon wanted to use pedicle screws to attach my rods, but my bones were too small and too hard to accommodate the screws, so he used hooks instead. (The hooks were used for years and years before the pedicle screws were invented.) Because the hooks are not initially as strong as the screws, I had to wear a brace for three months after surgery. This was a rotten surprise, because I had been told I would not need a brace or cast or anything. I got through the three months, though, and everything came out okay.

Click here for photos of my back and my x-rays, before and after. Don’t worry, they’re not inappropriate or gruesome, unless light pink scars bother you. The x-ray pictures show the instrumentation and the reduced curvature.

Update: January 2005

Well, it’s been six months now, and I feel fabulous! According to the activity chart, I’m allowed to swim now. Yeah, right! Who wants to swim in January in northern California? The pools aren’t even heated this time of year! It’s sixty degrees outside! Oh, well, I guess I’m a true Californian if I consider sixty to be cold. My cousin in Vermont rejoices when it gets back up above freezing. I guess it’s all a matter of perspective.

At any rate, things are going great. I’m a senior this year (yeah!) and life rocks. After the brace came off in October, Mommy and I went shopping for new clothes, since I was an inch and a half taller after surgery, which meant a lot of my tops no longer passed the school dress code. It felt so good to finally be able to give away the baggy clothes I had stocked up to hide my rib hump before surgery and the brace afterward. (I had grown very self-conscious of my body. Unfortunately it wasn't until later that I realized I had nothing to be embarrassed about.) I finally feel like a girl. Now I actually have curves in the right places! True, it’s not completely perfect, but that doesn’t bother me. I feel normal.

One unexpected side effect of surgery was that the skin on my back was very sensitive to any kind of irritation. Until now, I couldn’t wear necklaces and had to cut the tags out of my shirts. Now I can comfortably wear my cross again, which is really important to me.

Fashion aside, I just feel better. I can breathe better, sleep better, sit more comfortably in a chair, car, or bathtub, and just generally function more normally than I could before the surgery. My periods have normalized too. (Before, it appears that my lower-most curve was pushing things out of place, which was causing really annoying irregularity. It turns out that about 50% of girls with scoliosis experience this.) People sometimes ask what it feels like to have metal in my back, but to be perfectly honest, I can’t feel it. I don’t know it’s there.

There were large regions of my back that I couldn’t feel at all right after surgery, but the sensation there is starting to come back. (Sensation tends to return in a very weird-feeling way, where it wakes up from the inside out. I can feel it inside when someone touches my back, but parts of my skin still have no feeling.) Except for about a week ago, while those numb parts were waking up, I have had almost no pain since the two-month mark, and I expect none for the foreseeable future.

This really was the best thing I ever did for myself, although when I first woke up, I really wasn’t sure. It was a pretty miserable first two weeks, but when I compare that to the rest of my life, it was worth it a hundred times over. I thank God that I could have this done.

Update: July 2005 (One year post-op)

It has been one year since my surgery, and I feel absolutely fantastic. I have been cleared to do basically whatever I feel like doing. On my class field trip to Great America (a local amusement park) I got to ride Top Gun, the longest inverted coaster in California. I can carry my two-year-old (and thirty-pound!) sister, help move furniture, ride my bike, go swimming, sleep on the floor at sleepovers, sit comfortably in any chair, and play at the park with my friends without any reservations. Life is beautiful. I feel much, much better than I did before surgery, and I am immeasurably grateful that God gave me this opportunity to get my life back. My one-year checkup went well, and my surgeon said that my curves have all stabilized and I should be set for life! (Since they did not fuse the lower curve, even though it was 40+ degrees, there was the slight chance that it would cause problems down the line, but now it looks like that's all ok!)

Update: October 2007 (Three years post-op)

Three years later, life is still absolutely beautiful. Let me start by thanking all of you who have emailed me with your stories – it always makes my day to know that this site is helping people! Thanks for helping to spread the word to your friends too. As you may have noticed, the old address (http://home.comcast.net/~scoliosissupport) still works, but you can also get here with my new, easier to remember address: www.CurvyBack.com!

I'm now a junior in college, and I can proudly say that my back has never been an obstacle. I participate fully in my labs, work in the Children's Center where I play with infants and preschoolers without issue, and generally enjoy the same quality of life as someone without scoliosis. This is a night-and-day difference from life before the surgery, and while I won't ever tell you it was easy, I will say it continues to be one of the greatest gifts I've ever received, because it gave me my life back. I can't say what's right for you and your back, and I do understand all the fear and anxiety related to any potential surgery, but I would encourage you to talk with your doctor about your potential quality of life with vs. without the surgery, because at least for me, it was 1000% worth it in the long run. As always, if there's anything I can do to help or if you just want someone to talk to, I'm here at scoliosissupport@comcast.net. Thanks again, everyone, and best wishes!

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