When Amanda and her mother were alerted to a curvature in Amanda's spine during an annual school physical, the 13-year-old gymnast and volleyball player "didn't think much about" her scoliosis diagnosis – at first.
But when she learned a year later that the curve in her spine had worsened and she would soon need scoliosis surgery to correct the problem, she feared her days as a tumbler and team player were about to be over – or at least severely limited.
Never has a teen been so happy to be so wrong!
When Amanda was first diagnosed with scoliosis during her middle school physical, an x-ray examination revealed she had a primary thoracolumbar (mid- to low-back) curvature of almost 40 degrees, with a smaller, compensatory thoracic (mid- to upper-back) curve of about 34 degrees.
She was fitted with a Charleston Bending Brace, which she wore at night as directed by her doctor to try and keep the curve in her spine from getting any worse.
To deal with the back pain that flared occasionally ("I would be fine one minute and miserable the next," she says), Amanda went to the chiropractor and took pain medication prescribed by her doctor. While these measures helped Amanda manage her pain and keep up with most of her school and after-school activities, they did little to keep the curve in her spine from progressing at a rate that concerned her doctor and her family.
By the time she had her first visit with the scoliosis specialist she was referred to, Dr. Stephen Enguidanos of the Orthopaedic and Spine Surgery Center in Niceville, FL, – about a year after her initial diagnosis – Amanda's primary spinal curve had increased to 54 degrees and her compensatory curve to 46 degrees.
"Looking at the x-rays taken over a 6-month period prior to her first visit with me, I was very concerned that Amanda's curves would continue to progress, and at a rapid pace," Enguidanos says. "This was an aggressive curvature, and there was no way to stop it with just the bracing."
Many teens – and adults, for that matter – would be afraid of the prospect of having spine surgery. But not Amanda! According to her mother, Julie, once the decision was made that surgery was the best option, Amanda was "psyched to get in and get it over with."
One reason for Amanda's confidence is the bond she and her family developed with her doctor and his staff, an aspect of treatment Dr. Enguidanos says is essential, especially when dealing with young patients.
"Spinal reconstruction is a serious procedure," Dr. Enguidanos says. "So it's really important that I build a strong relationship with the patient and their family beforehand. It allows me to get to know them better, and to help everyone understand what is involved and address any concerns they may have along the way."
By the time she had her surgery, Amanda was in the ninth grade. "The operation went very well," Dr. Enguidanos says. "And post-surgery, she had minimal complaints and her recovery progressed very nicely."
Amanda was able to leave the hospital after 4 days, and continued her recovery from home for 5 weeks before returning to school. During that time, Amanda worked with a tutor to keep up with her classmates, and was even able to take her annual school achievement tests on time. Amanda also realized another benefit of her surgery – she found she'd gained almost 3 inches in height!
About the same time she returned to school, Amanda started physical therapy to help stretch and strengthen her back muscles and maintain her overall physical conditioning. Amanda's dancing, tumbling, and other sports activities, however, were temporarily put on hold to give her vertebrae and spinal instrumentation time to stabilize and heal properly.
She wasn't on the sidelines for long, though. "I just had to take it slow for the first few months, but then I gradually started getting back into the things I like to do," she says. "I feel like I recovered really quickly, and now I'm back to normal."
Amanda admits she was really concerned her scoliosis correction surgery would decrease her mobility and affect her ability to perform at the competitive level she was used to.
Today, Amanda is enjoying her senior year at Freeport High School, and is happy to be "back up to speed" as a varsity cheerleader, dancer and gymnast. "If she had not had the surgery when she did, I do not like to think about what her life would be like right now," says her mother, Julie. "So, I'm really happy she's where she is today. She's able to do what she wants to do and is so gung-ho about it. She's full steam ahead, and nothing's going to stop her."
As you read this please keep in mind that all treatment and outcome results are specific to the individual patient. Results may vary. Complications, such as infection, blood loss, or nerve damage are some of the potential adverse risks of spinal surgery. Please consult your physician for a complete list of indications, warnings, precautions, adverse events, clinical results, and other important medical information.
This story reflects one person's experience. Not every person will receive the same results. Talk to your doctor about your treatment options.