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Patient Stories

Leah T

As an active high school and competitive cheerleader, I always attributed my daily back pain to muscle soreness and “growing pains.” At my 15-year annual checkup, my pediatrician performed a routine scoliosis screening and immediately sent me for x-rays. The next few days were a complete blur of doctors’ appointments, tests and consultations. The diagnosis was confirmed – adolescent idiopathic scoliosis with an “S” curve – 57 degrees on the top curve and 72 degrees on the bottom. As one of the more severe cases they have seen, surgery was the only option. Fear was an understatement for what I felt. A long, complicated surgery with an equally difficult recovery was only part of my concern. I was told I would never be able to tumble again, a huge part of cheerleading, and I would lose flexibility in my spine. I was anxious and frustrated to say the least.

On November 11, 2019, I had full spinal fusion surgery at Johns Hopkins Children’s Center, performed by Dr. Sponseller. After an 8-hour surgery, my spine was fused from T4 – L4 with two titanium rods and 22 screws. I also woke up 2.5 inches taller. While I don’t remember much of the actual surgery, or even my four-night stay at this hospital, I remember how amazing the entire medical staff was and how supportive my friends and family were.

To me, recovery was about discovery. Discovering a new center of gravity, discovering new ways to move my body and discovering coping mechanisms for pain and discomfort. As the weeks went on, I continued to build strength and stamina while learning my new limits. I slowly went back to school, started to participate in more activities and continued to build confidence. While I will never be able to tumble, I can still dance, stunt and jump, all without pain.

As I continue to fully recover and find new ways to function and thrive, scoliosis awareness has become one of my passions. The first few weeks after surgery, I tried to take my mind off my pain by making string friendship bracelets in various colors and designs. I sent them to my doctors and nurses as thank you gifts and gave one to friends and family members when they came to visit and support me. As the one-year anniversary of my surgery nears, I decided to combine my creative ability, my fervor for community service and my compassion for others to create a special scoliosis themed bracelet as a way to raise awareness. String for Scoliosis, as I decided to name it, will visually display the green awareness ribbon while raising funds for Setting Scoliosis Straight. What started out for me as the scariest and most anxious time of my life has turned into a journey that’s taught me to face adversity, overcome obstacles and find strength through struggle. I am now on a path to help others realize that bent does not mean broken!

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