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One patient's story: living with scoliosis

  • Tripp Underwood
  • 11/10/2010 12:00:00 AM
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Visceria Givans is a student athlete, diagnosed with scoliosis in grade school. She received corrective spine surgery at Boston Children's Hospital a few years later and is actively playing sports again. In the following post she discusses her treatment, recovery and how she refused to let scoliosis define her or impact her self-esteem.

[caption id="attachment_10279" align="alignleft" width="235" caption="Scoliosis is a curvature of the spine measuring 20 degrees or greater"][/caption]

Getting checked for scoliosis at school is a little strange. First, you have to wear a bathing suit under your clothes that day because the school nurse needs to be able to see the entire line of your back to make sure your spine is growing correctly. Then, they disrupt the whole school day by checking all the kids for curvatures in their spine, one at a time. When I had my first scoliosis test back in the fourth grade, it was even stranger for me because after it was over the nurse mentioned that it looked like my back was growing a little crooked, and it was something we'd need to keep an eye on.

I didn't know exactly what to think, but the nurse didn't seem too worried so my parents and I didn't think much about it either. For the next few years my doctor checked my spine regularly and when it was clear the curve was getting worse he suggested I wear a brace to try to correct it.

Wearing the brace took some getting used to. For starter's it's pretty big, so it stretched out a lot of my clothes. Secondly, it's not the most comfortable thing in the world to spend 20 hours a day in brace that covers you from your shoulders to your belly, so even relaxing things like sitting and watching TV became kind of a chore. Not a perfect situation, but after awhile you get used to it and find ways to adapt. I bought bigger clothes that looked good but still left room for the brace, and quickly learned which positions were more comfortable with my brace on. The hardest part was when it prevented me from cheerleading and playing sports, which have always been a big part of my life, but I managed to find other ways to help the team. When my scoliosis kept me on the sidelines I assisted the coaches and offered suggestions and encouragement to my teammates.

[caption id="attachment_13299" align="alignright" width="240" caption="Visceria after having her scoliosis treated at Boston Children's"][/caption]

After a year with the brace it became such a regular part of my life I almost forgot I had it on. I think the brace may have forgot too, because by the time I turned 13, Dr. Karlin, the scoliosis specialist I saw at Boston Children's Hospital, said it didn't seem to be doing enough to correct the curvature in my spine. I didn't feel any different, and it didn't hurt in any way, but my doctor explained that as time went on it could get a lot worse. I could develop a hunch back, and if my spine got too crooked it could press against some of my organs which could lead to very serious medical problems as I got older. Dr. Karlin explained that best way to prevent this was surgery, where they'd permanently straighten my spine by fusing it with a metal rod.

The surgery took over 9 hours, but when I woke up my spine was straighter and I was a full 2 inches taller. My mom couldn't believe how different I looked standing that straight. She said she always thought my slumping was because I was a teenager and I was being moody, but it really was just the shape of my back!

Even though my surgery was over, the biggest challenge of my scoliosis still lay ahead: physical therapy and recovery. At first everyday things like getting out of bed and walking up and down stairs were real challenges; I had to work closely with both my physical therapist and my parents to relearn how to do even the simplest tasks. I also lost a lot of weight because the medication I was on took away my appetite, but as soon as I got off the meds I started eating again.

[caption id="attachment_13297" align="alignleft" width="242" caption="Visceria is back to sports and cheerleading"][/caption]

It's been over a year since my surgery and I'm back to cheerleading and playing lots of sports, which feels great. It also feels good to know that my story can help other kids. Last year a girl a few years younger than me found out she had scoliosis, and I was happy to be able to tell her that it doesn't have to affect her life too much, or keep her from doing the things she liked. It may not be the most original piece of advice, and really it applies to everyone and not just people with scoliosis, but I told her the best thing she could was to just be confident in who she was. If you are a strong person with a healthy self-esteem it's easy to not let something like a curved spine, or any other medical condition, define who you are as a person.

Read another patient story about Anjellina who overcame two scoliosis surgeries.

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