Scoliosis surgery: from tears to smiles

Taychil4Fifteen-year-old Taylor Gomes approached her pre-operative appointment for scoliosis surgery as many teens might—in tears. “She came out of the appointment smiling. Not many people have that effect on Taylor,” says her mother Holly Gomes of Danvers, Mass.

Holly credits Taylor’s orthopedic surgeon Michael Glotzbecker, MD, of Boston Children’s Hospital’s Department of Orthopedic Surgery, with her daughter’s 180-degree shift in attitude.

A local pediatrician diagnosed Taylor with scoliosis when she was 8 years old, and measured her curve annually with back x-rays during her well-child appointments.

By the time Taylor turned 14, her curve had progressed, and her pediatrician knew it was time to refer to a specialist at Boston Children’s.

Michael Glotzbecker, MDEnter Glotzbecker, who reviewed the teen’s options with the family. Initially, they opted to try a brace to prevent the curve from progressing. However, Taylor isn’t your average scoliosis patient. In addition to her spinal curve, Taylor’s health is compromised by anxiety, which flares up when she feels confined.

She was unable to comply with the brace; after the initial fitting, it sat in her closet.

By February 2013, Taylor’s curve had progressed to 55 degrees, and x-rays indicated she was still growing, which meant it was likely that the curve would worsen as her height increased.

“I was overwhelmed,” confesses Taylor, who now admits to major anxiety before surgery.

Glotzbecker encouraged the teen to email him with any questions, and Taylor made wise use of the privilege, asking him questions like when she would be able to resume dance or other activities. “He always gave me a quick answer. It was very easy to talk to him about what made me nervous.”

Taylor also turned to other online resources, using “” to watch videos about scoliosis and connect with other teens with the condition, which helped her learn how to handle the situation.

When the big day arrived, Taylor and her parents felt as ready as they could be. The six-hour surgery went according to plan. The entire scoliosis team helped Taylor manage her weeklong hospital stay with minimal anxiety. Her hospital nurses and physical therapists explained the details of her recovery step-by-step, so Taylor knew what to expect when it was time to sit up in a chair and take her first steps.

gomes_taylor_6.4.14Several days after her surgery, another meeting between Glotzbecker and Taylor ended with the teen in tears. “She started crying, much like she had when we started to talk about surgery,” recalls Glotzbecker. “I asked her what was the matter, and she said, ‘Nothing…I am just really happy’.”

A few weeks after surgery, Taylor is confident and smiling. The teen grew two inches after the surgery to correct the curve and is thrilled to have passed her mother in height. She plans on following Glotzbecker’s orders and easing back into dance lessons three months after surgery and returning to a full program of ballet, tap and jazz six months after surgery.