Kathy Ricciardi is a 20 year old patient of Alfred I. duPont Children’s Hospital in Wilmington Delaware. She was diagnosed with Adolescent Idiopathic Scoliosis when she was 10 years of age with a 22 degree spinal curvature. Despite bracing, her curve increased to 52 degrees and with significant truncal asymmetry (shoulders were uneven, hips not aligned with ribs), she underwent spinal fusion in 2009.
“Remember, if you ever need a helping hand, it’s at the end of your arm, as you get older, remember you have another hand: The first is to help yourself, the second is to help others.” This quote stated by someone who I admire, Audrey Hepburn, is what I cherish throughout this foundation.
On July 22, 2009 at Nemours/Alfred I. duPont Hospital in Wilmington Delaware, a young girl’s fate changed. As her friends continued their summer vacations and day trips, she was preparing herself for the biggest transformation of her life; spinal surgery. She could not help but fear of what was to come; however, having the comfort and support from her family, she was able to overcome her emotional struggles. She entered the hospital with a twisted spinal cord, but left with a new beautiful body. This young girl is me.
As the hours passed, nerve racking family and friends sat in the waiting room, waiting to hear the good news that my surgery was finished. It was a total of nine hours. The nurses at duPont were very informative, providing my mother with news about my condition every hour. When I woke up in my hospital room, it felt like I was only under for a couple of minutes. The time truly went by so quickly, I really had nothing to worry about in the first place. I was grateful to wake up surrounded by numerous family members and friends by my bedside. Their company eased the pain. The person I could turn to the most was my mother. She was there for me every step of the way; she even stayed with me day and night for the week I was in the hospital to make sure I was ok.
Simple things became difficult for me; there were new challenges every day. The simplest movements that I took for granted such as sitting, standing, walking, lifting my arms, turning in bed etc… became incredibly difficult. The assistance from my nurses and physical therapists helped me tremendously as I was in the hospital. They got me up and moving, whether I liked it or not. When I was granted permission to leave the hospital, my mother and sister took place of my nursing team. They both gave up so much for me, including trading their comfy beds for my bedroom floor, just to be by my side if I needed anything in the middle of the night.
After a couple weeks of recovery, my family members started noticing a difference in me. I was able to get up on my own and walk around the house. I even remember the day I was able to dress myself without anyone’s help. My physical condition became stable once September came along, however I wish I could say the same for my psychological state. Once my senior year began, I was very apprehensive about opening up about my surgery. I was nervous about things a girl should look forward to in her senior year. Instead of picking a dress for homecoming that was the right color, I spent my time trying to find one to hide my scar. Nevertheless, I was justify my feelings by replacing pessimistic thoughts with optimistic ones, and showed off my “mark” of a new beginning.
After several months of recovery, I decided I wanted to give back in a very special way to my hospital. After all of my experiences I had this certain philanthropic drive. December 2009, my high school administrators granted me the permission to hold a fundraiser for the children of Nemours. The proceeds from the student body went towards toys for the children and teens for the Child Life Program. Collections came leisurely until I decided to make an announcement to the entire student body that I am a patient of this hospital and described my summer surgery. As my shaking words came out, the love came pouring in, and together we were able to raise 1,000 dollars. I do not believe I could ever thank my friends, faculty members, and fellow students for their wonderful generosity.
I have come a long way and I thank Dr. Shah, the operation team, researchers, physical therapists, my family and friends for helping me along this journey. My surgery was truly a blessing and has opened many doors for me. I came to a point in my life where I accepted myself. I no longer saw myself as the girl with a scar or the girl with rods in her back. I saw myself as me…beautiful me. I receive many complements on my posture, my clothes fit perfectly, and I no longer suffer from pre-surgical back pain. What truly made me thankful for this surgery was when I was able to perfectly fit and zip into my prom dresses. Now, I am driven on making difference, big and/or small.
After my high school graduation, I became highly involved on my college campus. I am reaching out to several campus organizations to hold fundraisers, to raise money for handbooks for new patients diagnosed with scoliosis. I have reached out to the surrounding community, my friends, and my family for their help as well. And now I hope I can reach out to all of you. Please make a difference with me, by assisting in my efforts to raise funds for the production of these Scoliosis Handbooks. These handbooks will benefit children and adolescents by easing their emotional struggle as they undergo their own personal scoliosis journey. Your wonderful generosity will truly make a difference in someone’s life. Thank you.
This Scoliosis Handbook will provide patients with a guide to answer questions and provide information, which may minimize the fear and anxiety associated with being newly diagnosed. The handbook is being produced by the Setting Scoliosis Straight Foundation and will be translated into 5 different languages with plans for world-wide distribution. Kathy will be involved with organizing fundraising events through her college student body and within her community.
“One of my favorite quotes is be the change you wish to see in the world. I believe I can make a change by providing comfort to others through these handbooks. I hope my story can relate to someone and provide relief to their situation. Knowing I helped someone in some way, would be the greatest reward.”
Congratulations Kathy on being such an incredible inspiration! The Setting Scoliosis Striaght Foundation thanks you for your efforts which will help make the production of this handbook a reality! And future patients with Adolescent Idiopathic Scoliosis thank you, for your courage, commitment and willingness to give-back!