“I was diagnosed with Adolescent Idiopathic Scoliosis at the age of 14. I was in the 8th grade, and the school nurse was coordinating scoliosis checks. She had me touch my toes and used something called a scoliometer on my back. When I came up, she seemed worried and informed me the scale was reading a pretty high number, meaning I most likely had scoliosis.
I didn’t even know anything about scoliosis! I knew my mom had a mild case of it because when I was very young, my dad guided my hand to trace the outline of her spine to show me it slightly curved at the bottom. Then he would trace mine and tell me, happily, it was straight as an arrow! I would walk away, beaming.
I never would have guessed I would one day have this — what was it, a disease? I really had no idea, but what I did know was it sure was strange, especially because I hadn’t even known I’d been living with it!
Throughout elementary school, I had been a highly active dancer, tumbler, and competitive gymnast. Then in middle school, I joined the cheerleading team. One of the first thoughts that passed through my mind was, ‘Will I be able to keep doing my athletic activities?’ I also had no idea if my highly active activities were what played a part in causing my so-called crooked spine.
The first thing we did to take action was to set up an appointment with a spine/back specialist. Once we arrived, the doctor pointed out the things that were visibly protruding on my back, like the left shoulder blade that stuck out and my non-existent right one. The shoulder that was higher than the other one. The deep crease on my left side. The fact that when I bent over, everything on my back, ribs, and shoulders appeared shockingly out of line, and yet all these things I had never even noticed! The doctor proceeded to tell us that surgery may be possible in the near future to correct such a condition, or perhaps a brace could be worn to stop it from progressing. I sincerely hoped for the latter. Any thought of surgery absolutely terrified me.
Not much later, I went to see my pediatrician and she referred me to Texas Scottish Rite Hospital in Dallas. I was pretty nervous about visiting this place. I had heard great things about the hospital, that they were world-renowned for treating scoliosis and other conditions, but the thought of being a patient there really made me feel like I had a serious condition.
In July of 2015, I had my first visit to Scottish Rite. The place was truly amazing. I had never seen a happier hospital with so many colors, fresh popcorn, cool models to look at, and activities to enjoy while waiting. Shoutout to Scottish Rite for being the best hospital ever!!
Finally, after some x-rays, it was time for my appointment with Dr. Ramo. He was the one to tell me that my largest curve measured about 50 degrees. (The other one was somewhere in the 40s.) That sounded huge to me. I couldn’t believe it. However, he told me that even though the surgery was a possibility in the future, I had plenty of time before we had to even think about it. Since my scoliosis wasn’t causing me any pain or hindering me from any of my activities, including tumbling and cheer, Dr. Ramo said for now, all we needed to do was come back for a yearly check-up to see if my curve would progress over time, since I was already done growing. The fact that I was done growing also meant I would not need a brace. Those were only for kids who were still growing.
Over time, I learned to joke about my scoliosis. I learned to enjoy it as best as I could and use it more so as a fun fact about myself. I would bend over to show my friends or have them feel the crease on the left side. Then I would assure them, despite that, I felt great! No pain or any reason to quit cheerleading!
I kept going to my yearly appointments at Scottish Rite throughout high school. Each appointment was typically the same, a couple of X-rays, and a good report about how my spine seemed to mostly have remained the same! I felt great! Until my appointment the summer before I began my senior year. Dr. Ramo informed me the X-rays were showing that the curves had progressed roughly about 5 degrees. This made me an ideal candidate for surgery. Dr. Ramo ultimately assured my family and me this was completely up to us, mostly me, if we wanted to go through with it.
I admit I was horrified. SURGERY?? Um, no way. I’m not letting anyone cut me open with a knife, thank you.
Unfortunately, throughout my senior year, I grew much more self-conscious about my scoliosis. In my tight cheer uniform, I would try to keep my hands over the crease so no one would see it. My torso was so short, it was like I didn’t even have one. I stopped looking at my back in the mirror because it just looked so gross and weird. That’s when I really felt like it was getting worse and that something needed to be done.
My mom called the hospital in January 2019 and set up my official surgery date, July 16, 2019. I immediately started crying when I heard the date. I truly couldn’t believe it. Why me? Why would God decide to make my spine curvy and my back ugly and cause me to have to go through this? The thought of surgery scared me to the point where I refused to think about it.
Each month that passed reminded me the surgery was approaching sooner. I almost didn’t want my high school graduation to come because that meant it was only a month and a half before my surgery! Luckily I was done with cheerleading though and decided on 2 years of junior college after high school, so I wouldn’t be joining any new cheer teams. Dr. Ramo mentioned any tumbling after surgery would not be recommended and I would be significantly less flexible. Up until surgery, I kept thinking this might be my last tumbling pass. This could be my last backflip into the pool. This could be my last time flipping around at the trampoline park. I couldn’t comprehend it.
When the day finally came, we showed up at about 6:45 a.m. and my surgery was set for 10:00. I was a nervous, anxious wreck. The entire night before, I didn’t sleep a wink and I worked myself up so much, I was pretty sure I had a fever. But somehow I got through it. It took lots and lots of prayers, hugs, and tears, but I did it. 6.5 hours, 2 metal rods, 19 screws, and 12 fused vertebrae (T4-L3 to be exact) later, it was over.
It was about 7 and a half hours before my family got to see me. I was completely out of it most of the time and was in a lot of pain and discomfort. The time spent in the hospital was sort of a blur. I was medicated and/or sleeping the majority of the time. I got to go home 3 days post-op.
As the first 2 weeks of recovery passed, I felt better and better each day. Around 4 and a half weeks is when I really started feeling like my old self and was able to handle shopping trips and eating out comfortably. Today, I am almost 2 months post-op! I’ve gone for two post-op appointments and don’t have another one for a year! My scar is healing up nicely and I’m attending community college and enjoy swimming in my pool or taking my dog for walks for exercise. My appetite is back to normal and I sleep comfortably. But most importantly, I look and feel great! I now have a torso and the crease on my left side is gone, my shoulders are even and so are my shoulder blades! I’m a whole inch and a half taller! I couldn’t be happier with the success of my surgery and the way I look today.
Scoliosis gave me a good fight but I’m happy to say I came out on top.”
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