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Patient Stories

Patient Story: Diana Shalkivska

Since first grade, I was diagnosed with scoliosis. It started off with me experiencing back pain once in a while and my mom noticing that my posture was very bad compared to other children. We went to the doctor and just at 5 years old I had an S curve of 28 degrees on top and 23 degrees on the bottom. My parents were told by my surgeon that in the future he definitely could see this lead to surgery. My parents were furious with the doctor. They thought: “how could he be so certain? She’s still so young, there’s so much time to fix this”.

They enrolled me in physiotherapy, swimming, and gymnastics. I did swimming 3 times a week, gymnastics I did twice a week, and physiotherapy once a week. After a year I came back to the doctor, and my curvature decreased by 5 degrees on top and 3 degrees on the bottom. My parents started seeing a glimpse of hope. In all honestly, I didn’t yet understand the severity of all of this. I enjoyed being so active actually. My doctor was so shocked that he even asked us to write down a detailed description of everything I was doing. Even though things seemed to be getting better, when we came back two years later, the news wasn’t too good. I had 30 degrees on top and 20+ degrees on the bottom. I grew a lot in this period of time and due to this everything that I was doing before didn’t help me.

In fourth grade, I  already started using a sleeping brace. During my first month of using it, I was not able to sleep. I was sweating and in a lot of pain. Due to this, we gave up on the sleeping brace. It was physically impossible for a child to endure it. I had harsh bruises, and I couldn’t focus in school due to the lack of sleep. We continued doing everything I was doing before and we hoped it would help or at least not allow the curve to get worst. Next year we went back to the doctor. It did get worst. I needed to use a brace during the day and night. I used it up from 5th grade to 8th grade. It was terrible because as a kid it restricted me so much physically and I just felt very uncomfortable. It was hard being myself even. Even though this was the case this brace was much easier to bear than the sleeping one. I used it daily with almost no exception. I also continued swimming up until the begging of 8th grade. After some time I also stopped swimming because I was able to do it. I had a lot of pain. I could barely walk for 20+ minutes without my brace, and even with the brace, it was painful. I went back to the doctor and my curve was around 75 degrees on top and 67 degrees on the bottom. I was 13.

The doctor told me I needed surgery urgently. I was scared but I knew it was the only option. I was in so much pain, and it would only get worst over the years. Even though this was the case me and my parents tried to look for other solutions. For example, surgeries that are not as invasive: affix. We went purposely to another city called Porto from Lisbon to see a doctor who does this procedure. Unfortunately, he told us my curve is definitely too big for it. He reassured us that Jorge Mineiro (the best spinal surgeon in Portugal) is a doctor that he would trust his own kid with. This gave us reassurance to proceed. I was confident and knew this needed to be done.

During the first week of surgery, I regretted having done it. I remember on the first day I was yelling in pain saying why did I do this to myself. Even though this was the case the surgery went very well. When I came home, it was hard to even walk to the nearby cafe after 3 weeks. I was thinking in my head: how the hell am I going to school in a week? But I did. I brought my pillow with me so my back has more comfort and support and sat through my classes. I realized who my real friends were in the process and how my family will always be there for me no matter what. This journey allowed me to grow strong not only physically but mentally.

To recover I pushed through the pain and fear and started doing sports again after 3 months. I started with swimming 3 times a week and then I started doing long-distance runs of 8-10 km in 7 months. After a year I felt more comfortable riding than ever. This surgery strengthens me not only physically but mentally in ways I couldn’t even imagine. I right now live a happy life. I basically don’t experience any back pain. I am able to go on long hikes with my friend and not worry about whether my back is going to hurt. I am even doing the expedition for the duke of Edinburgh gold award, which is very physically demanding. I also recently signed with a modelling agency here in Portugal and I have never been happier. I also found myself in music and my journey with scoliosis inspired me to sing and create amazing lyrics and songs!

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