Patient Stories

Alyssa Burns

Hi. My name is Ali, and I was diagnosed with scoliosis when I was thirteen. My scoliosis was detected during a routine check at school, and my mother quickly made an appointment with an orthopedic doctor who I would spend a lot of time with over the next four years. At my first appointment, my main curve was only about twenty degrees, and though it wasn’t much to worry about, the doctor wanted me to come back every few months to make sure my curve wasn’t increasing. A year after my diagnosis, my curve had increased to thirty-one degrees. It was time for the dreaded brace.

From ages fourteen to seventeen, I had to wear a brace for twenty-two hours every day. I was made fun of daily at school, and it got so bad that I would cry every day before going to school and beg my mom to please just let me have one day where I could feel “normal.” I would try to take my brace off and hide it, but my mother always knew, and so I wore it day and night. My brace was painful too. My ribs stuck out a lot in the front, and for two and a half years, I had a big bruise across them. I can still feel the pain when I think about wearing my brace, and it makes me cringe! No matter how much padding was put in, it was never comfortable. At age seventeen, I finally got to take the brace off for good! My curve stayed at thirty-one degrees. My doctor promised that I would never need surgery, and that I would be fine. Then, the back pain began. The pain was so severe that when I would lie down at night, I wouldn’t be able to breathe for a few minutes. It increased day by day, hour by hour. I hurt when I was sitting, standing, sleeping, and working. I was always in pain. I lived like this until I was twenty-one. After four years of constant pain, I decided I needed to get help.

The first doctor I went to didn’t even look at the x-rays I’d taken for him. He checked my reflexes, and then he told me to get spinal injections. I didn’t feel that spinal injections would help. My body had gone from being slightly distorted to obviously leaning to the left. People could notice, and I was becoming very self-conscious about my body. I decided to do more research and look into top scoliosis doctors in the United States. During my search, I came across a doctor that really stuck out to me: Dr. Baron Lonner. Dr. Lonner sounded like such an amazing doctor! Not only does he perform spinal surgery in the United States, but he has also traveled to other countries to help scoliosis patients who don’t have access to proper care or who have their spinal surgeries performed in terrible conditions. One story that stuck out to me was when Dr. Lonner traveled to Ghana and performed eighteen surgeries in four days! I was amazing! I figured if this doctor could operate in terrible conditions and still have an amazing success rate, then this doctor would be exactly who I wanted to take a look at my spine and make a final decision on my scoliosis treatment. I needed to see him! I made the three hour trip to New York City, and my mom met me there to go to my appointment with me. We were called into the office before I could even finish my paperwork. Dr. Lonner’s staff was so friendly, so well organized, and each person in the office had a role to play in making sure everything ran smoothly. When Dr. Lonner came in, he was very kind to me. He looked at my x-rays, took measurements, and ran tests. My curve had increased from thirty-one to forty-four degrees, and I needed surgery. Luckily, Dr. Lonner spent nearly two hours with me, and he told me about the surgery. I think my mom and I both must have looked like basket cases. I had sweat dripping off of me because I was so nervous, but Dr. Lonner made me feel so much better when he said these words, which I will remember for the rest of my life. He said, “When I’m doing your surgery, I think of you ask my little sister.” It brings chills to my (now bionic) spine when I think about what he said! I just knew that he and his team were going to take care of me. So, my surgery was scheduled for December 5th, only twenty-one days after my first appointment.

On December 4th, I met my mom in New York City because I had to arrive for my surgery at 6:00 the next morning. My mom got a hotel room for us, and we spent the day before my surgery having a ton of fun. We went to Times Square, Rockefeller Center, and Central Park. We went out and had our very first drink together. We took pictures with Abercrombie and Fitch models and with a gigantic Christmas tree. We went shopping for chocolate at Godiva, and we pet the horses in Central Park. It was really the best day ever! The night before my surgery, I showered and wiped myself down with the antiseptic wipes I was given by the hospital. I got more and more nervous as time went on, but eventually fell asleep. We woke up at 4:30, hailed a cab and went to NYU Hospital for Joint Disease. After checking in, I was taken to a room where I was told to put all my belongings in a bag and then put on a blue robe and compression stockings. More blood work was done, and then we waited for Dr. Lonner to arrive. My mom kept trying to cheer me up by blowing up rubber gloves and making jokes, but I was too nervous to think of anything. While we were waiting, a lot of nurses and doctors began arriving, and I remember saying to my mom that I hoped they weren’t all there for me, but they were. At least fifteen people must have come over, one by one, to introduce themselves, and then I was brought into what I think was the operating room. A few more doctors introduced themselves to me and promised that they would take care of me. I was given a shot of something that I was told would help calm me down, and as the anesthesiologists were talking to me, I fell asleep.

I woke up in a new room. It seemed like only five minutes had passed, but really over five hours had gone by. A nurse was explaining to me how to press the PCA button to release morphine every five minutes, but I was so groggy that she had to keep reminding me to press my button. I had so many instruments and things connected to me. There were tubes up my nose, tubes coming out of my back (and pretty much everywhere else), and there were things squeezing my arms and legs. I don’t remember much from the first few days after my surgery, but I do remember seeing my mom and her friend Judy visiting me in the recovery room. I remember being moved from the recovery room to the ICU, and that was not fun at all. I remember my mom staying with me from 4:30 in the morning until 10:00 at night every day, and I remember feeling so grateful that she could be there with me! I remember having bad muscle spasms that the nurses could see through my gown. I remember being in a great deal of pain, but my blood pressure dropped to lower than 70/20, so I had to have my pain pump taken away and three blood transfusions. I was screaming in pain so much that I would stop breathing, and that was the scariest thing I can remember.

The rest of my recovery went much better. I was a day late getting on my feet, but once I got up and started moving, I started to feel better. I do remember the first painful steps. I didn’t even think I could sit up, but once I did, I walked a few steps and then sat in a chair. My mom started crying, and she told me how amazing it was to see me sitting up straight for the first time ever. On the fourth day I walked with a walker, and then I walked holding my mom’s hand as we went around the nurses’ station. This also brought tears to my mom’s eyes. After five days in the hospital, three of them being in the ICU, I made the long trip to South Jersey where I spent six weeks with my mom while she took care of me. My mom helped me shower, eat, move, and she gave me my medications every couple of hours. (She even used a spreadsheet that she made to track what I was taking and when I was taking it.) A nurse and a physical therapist visited me every day, and they were absolutely wonderful. They helped me begin walking with crutches, and within a few weeks, I was walking on my own.

At my first follow-up appointment, which was four weeks after my surgery, Dr. Lonner showed me the x-ray of my spine. It had been straightened to only a six degree curve! I grew almost two inches in height, and now my body is perfectly straight! At two months post-op, I am feeling great. I can pretty much do everything I was able to do before my surgery (with a few limitations for a little while longer, of course). It was a long, hard recovery, but I am so happy that I had this surgery! My scar stretches down half of my back since I am fused from T11—L3, but hey, I am okay with that. As Harry Crews says, “There is something beautiful about all scars of whatever nature. A scar means the hurt is over.”


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