My name is Cally, and I have scoliosis. I first learned about scoliosis when I was tested during school in sixth grade. I'd heard the word "scoliosis" before, but all I knew was that it caused a curved back. I didn't know how it would affect me or what treatment options were available until my spine surgeon, Dr. David Polly Jr., explained everything to me.
Today, thanks to my experience with scoliosis, I know more about the condition than I ever wanted to.
Before I had scoliosis, I'd always thought a back brace was just for back support. Through my own experience, I learned that a back brace is also used for the treatment of scoliosis, to prevent the further curvature of the spine. Back braces are another thing I never paid much attention to, but now know more about than many people.
What is spinal fusion? I didn't know the answer to that until November 2005, when I was told I needed the procedure. My scoliosis brace hadn't worked the way we'd hoped and the curves in my back were now at 26, 28, and 46 degrees.
So, I had my T2 to T12 vertebrae fused, supported with instrumentation that included two 10-inch titanium rods and 19 titanium screws and clamps. I have a 13-inch scar down the middle of my back and a 3-inch scar from where they needed to take bone graft.
Most 15-year-olds would probably say they haven't been to the hospital much – if at all. I know they would be nervous like I was. After my scoliosis surgery, I stayed in the hospital for 5 days and was home from school for 6 weeks. If I had had the surgery years ago, I would have had to lie in a body cast for 6 months. This is an example of how far medical advances in scoliosis have come.
There are many people who might not say they were glad to have major surgery like mine, but I am one of those who would. My scoliosis surgery changed me and my life for the better, because my back is now straight and I don't have any physical restrictions.
My surgery wasn't fun at the time, but it molded me into the better and more mature person that I am today. My self-esteem is higher and I am a stronger person because of what I have been through. I am so thankful for the success of my spine surgery!
This past spring break, I spent 2 days in Washington, D.C. that I will never forget. It was one of the most rewarding experiences of my life.
I was there to participate in the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons Research Capitol Hill Days. There, I joined 30 other orthopedic patients and 45 physicians and researchers to encourage members of Congress to appropriate an additional 6.7% in funding over the previous fiscal year to the National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases (NIAMS).
Research Capitol Hill Days, an annual event, gives the orthopedic community, including surgeons, patients, and researchers, the opportunity to meet with U.S. senators and representatives on Capitol Hill to personally advocate for investments in the future of musculoskeletal care and increased research funding. I told my story about having scoliosis and going through the process of wearing a brace, of that not working and of having scoliosis surgery.
Dr. Polly, Dr. Peter Amadio from the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, MN, Dr. Dennis Clohisy from the University of Minnesota, my mom, and I met with Sen. Norm Coleman (R-Minn.), Rep. John Kline (R-Minn.), Sen. Herb Kohl (D-Wis.), Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.), Rep. Jim Ramstad (R-Minn.), and Rep. Timothy Walz (D-Minn.) to personally tell my story and explain what additional funding would mean to me and other patients. It was an amazing experience. They asked me questions and the surgeons and I would answer them. They were very interested in seeing my "before and after" x-rays and pictures of my back.
Funding is critical because musculoskeletal disorders cost the United States about $400 billion annually in healthcare services and lost economic productivity. Also, one in seven Americans suffers from musculoskeletal impairment. In 2003, musculoskeletal conditions and injuries accounted for 157 million visits to physicians' offices, 15 million visits to hospital outpatient departments, and 29 million visits to emergency rooms.
It's extremely important to increase funding for orthopedic research. Further financial support will not only benefit present orthopedic patients, but more importantly will pave the way or future advancements within the musculoskeletal arena.
I hope that an increase in the budget will help with advancements in the genetic information of scoliosis. I know that researchers are very close to finding what gene scoliosis is found in. This can tell us if you will have scoliosis surgery, if the back brace will work, or if you know you will need surgery. If that is the case, other patients wouldn't have to go through the experience of wearing a back brace and just know that they will need to have the surgery. This would eliminate the need for lots of doctor visits, unnecessary x-rays and the back brace.
Since scoliosis changed my life in such a positive way, I knew I wanted to support others with the condition in some way. Going to Washington and speaking before Congress as part of Research Capitol Hill Days was a great opportunity for me to do that and a way that could have a huge impact on the lives of scoliosis patients and doctors for many years to come.
I'm also active in educating others about scoliosis at home. Since my surgery, I've talked with some of Dr. Polly's scoliosis patients and do my best to answer any questions they may have. For instance, they ask me about how I told my friends about my condition, what my scar looks and feels like, whether I can feel the titanium rods and pins, and whether others could see that I have scoliosis. I can relate to them personally and comfort them because I have experienced it. I know that I was uneasy about having the surgery and it makes me feel better that I can reduce or eliminate that for others by talking to them.
This, along with my trip to Washington, is one of the biggest contributions I feel I could make to those of us who have scoliosis, as well as to the researchers and surgeons like Dr. Polly who are doing their best to take care of us and develop new treatments for the condition.
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.