Meet Meghan Dwyer — a typical busy high school student who loves field hockey, Disney movies and dance. Like thousands of other Massachusetts middle and high school students, Meghan participated in regular well-child and school screenings for scoliosis. Everything checked out fine.
Early in Meghan’s sophomore year; however, her mother Tricia, a nurse, noticed her daughter’s back appeared a bit crooked. She made an appointment with Dr. Dan Hedequist, an orthopedic surgeon in the Boston Children’s Hospital Spinal Program. “We didn’t think the curve was too bad and were shocked to find out it had progressed to 50 degrees,” recalls Tricia.
With a 50-degree curve, Meghan needed spinal fusion surgery. Less than 1 percent of girls with scoliosis have curves that require surgery, says Hedequist.
The Dwyers scheduled Meghan’s surgery for June 15, 2015, shortly before the end of her sophomore year.
Nearly one year after her surgery, Meghan is brimming with advice for other teens.
Meghan, who had never had surgery or anesthesia before her diagnosis, admits to being a bit nervous before her scoliosis surgery. “The nurses helped calm my nerves. They told me what was going to happen, which helped me prepare for the operation.”
Meghan says, “Now, I know there’s nothing to be nervous about. The doctors and nurses at Boston Children’s have done this hundreds of times.”
Connect with your guidance counselor
The Dwyers made sure to keep Meghan’s guidance counselor informed about her surgery. Her surgery took place just before the end of the school year, so she needed to reschedule a few final exams. Her guidance counselor arranged the changes with her teachers.
Keep it social
Scoliosis treatment: Surgery or bracing?
At 50 degrees, Meghan’s curve required surgery. Bracing is recommended for moderate curves.
“We’ve always been strong proponents of bracing for appropriate patients,” says Hedequist.
On Sept.19, 2013, the New England Journal of Medicine published results of the Bracing in Adolescent Idiopathic Scoliosis Trial (BrAIST), which showed the effectiveness of bracing as a treatment for patients with scoliosis curves between 25 and 45 degrees.
The Spinal Program uses tools to support bracing, including iButtons, which monitor the number of hours a patient wears her brace daily.
Although having surgery early in the summer worked well from the academic point of view, Meghan worried that recovering from surgery might spoil her summer.
She stayed close to home for the first few weeks after surgery, watching Disney princess movies and her favorite television series with her mother and her friends. “We ate lots of cookies and ice cream,” she grins.
One of Meghan’s first questions for Hedequist during her follow-up appointment was: “When can I go to the beach?”
It wasn’t long.
One month after her surgery, Hedequist gave Meghan the green light to go to the beach with her friends … provided she didn’t expose her surgical scar to the sun.
“I kept a t-shirt on and had a great time with my friends,” says Meghan.
Meghan had been an avid field hockey player during her freshman and sophomore years of high school. Though she returned to her full dance schedule, which included classes in ballet, tap, jazz, modern and contemporary, in the fall, she didn’t feel ready to return to contact sports three months after surgery.
“I emailed my coach and asked how I could stay involved.” Meghan acted as manager during her junior year, and is prepping to get back on the field for her senior year by running, taking spinning classes and participating in field hockey clinics during the summer months.
“My scar is part of who I am,” says Meghan. She chose to wear a backless dress for junior prom and had a wonderful time dancing the night away.
Make it a springboard
As Meghan plans for college and the next stage of her life, she’s using her scoliosis surgery and Boston Children’s experience to inform her career choice and considering a career in nursing — just like mom.