Brooke’s story: Looking back on my scoliosis surgery

Dancer with scoliosis
I was diagnosed with scoliosis in April 2009 when I was 7 years old. An x-ray confirmed my family’s worst fears: I was growing a crooked spine. I had a 30-degree curve in my thoracic (upper) spine and a 15-degree curve in my lumbar (lower) spine.

My scoliosis brace

My family and I tried many alternative treatments, such as a chiropractor and an osteopathic doctor, in the hopes that I could avoid wearing a back brace, but my curves were large and really needed bracing.

When I was wearing my brace as I was supposed to, my upper curve would go down to somewhere between 20 and 30 degrees. But I wasn’t able to adjust to the brace, physically or emotionally. I did not put in the hours wearing my brace that I should have.

Luckily, I wasn’t in any pain. But my curves were progressing. One shoulder was much higher than the other, and I was developing a large rib hump coming out of the right side of my back. You see, with scoliosis, the spine does not just curve laterally, but it actually twists and rotates, so that the ribs begin to protrude either in front or in back.

On Nov. 15, 2012, when I was 10, it was time for a follow-up appointment with Dr. Hresko. I had a feeling it wasn’t going to be good news because I hadn’t been wearing the brace.

From bracing to surgery

After my x-ray, my mother and I learned that my upper curve had progressed from 38 degrees one year prior to 67 degrees and had passed the point where bracing would be successful. Dr. Hresko informed us that I would need to have surgery and that I should not wait much longer as I had a lot of growing to do, and the curves would be harder to fix as I grew.

The room began to spin. I was crying, and my mother was crying. During the surgery, they would have to fuse a portion of my spine, so that it would not continue to grow, and place metal rods in it. I learned that I would be in the hospital for 5 to 7 days and home for 4 to 6 weeks for recuperation. This was going to be really hard as I loved school and all of my activities.

We had a lot of mixed feelings, because I did not wear my brace. But Dr. Hresko was very compassionate and reassured us that sometimes even when people wear the brace consistently, the curve is so progressive that they still end up having surgery. I was first diagnosed when I was 7 years old, and I already had a significant curve, which was not a good sign for the future.

We felt confident because we very fortunate to have the best children’s hospital in the country working with us, and my surgeon Dr. Hresko is one of their best. We were in good hands.

On January 14, 2013, I had the scoliosis surgery. The surgery lasted six hours and went very well, without complications. Dr. Hresko  corrected my curve from 68 degrees to 25 degrees. When I finally stood up a couple days later, I looked so much taller and straighter.

I would be lying if I said that it was all a picnic. Because it wasn’t. The day after the surgery, I was able to sit up in the chair for short periods of time. The next day I was able to stand and walk a little.

A physical therapist would come every day and make me walk through the hall, even though it was the last thing I felt like doing. But it was necessary to get my body working again.

Eight days after my surgery, I went home.

At home and recovering from scoliosis surgery

I had a lot of visitors. Other than that, I mostly played on my iPad, watched movies, tried to catch up on schoolwork and played
the piano. The mall became my regular place for walking to get exercise.

When we went back to Boston Children’s for my follow-up appointment, the update was good. My incision was healing well, and I was surprised what a thin line my scar was when they took off all the tape. They took a new x-ray, and everything looked okay.

brooke_h_scoli_1

I returned to school on Feb. 25 and started with a short day. My mom drove me a lot because the bus ride is bumpy. Going back to
school was difficult because I was thrown into big projects and homework right away! A tutor from my school came to my house while I was home recuperating, and she still came to the house twice a week after school to help me catch up straight through until June!

I also went to physical therapy twice a week for a month to strengthen and stretch out my upper body since my neck hurt a lot sometimes. This included going in a warm water therapy pool.

At school, I did not need to take gym (I was happy about that), could not carry any heavy books and had no recess until April (this was until all the snow was melted)! That is OK, because I went to the nurse’s office to play cards with a friend. For the first six months to a year, you need to be careful of strenuous physical activity while you are healing.

I am thankful to Dr. Hresko for who I have been able to become. He saved my life. I can still dance, play the guitar, the piano and do all the activities I want.

I got through all of this with the support of my family, friends, teachers, classmates and doctors. I hope this can be an inspiration to you. Do not be afraid. I would do it all again if I had to. If I can do it, you can do it too!

About the blogger: Brooke is 13 years old. She likes socializing with her friends, loves music and playing the guitar, enjoys dance and is a great artist, especially in the area of cartooning. She also enjoys learning foreign languages, such as Hebrew and French. Brooke has a younger brother who is almost 10 and who also has scoliosis. Dr. Hresko has cared for both Brooke and her brother since they were 7 and 6 years old, respectively.

Watch Embrace the Brace for advice on coping with scoliosis from Boston Children’s patients and caregivers.  Learn more about Boston Children’s Spinal Program.