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Scoliosis: Keri's Story

"I was 13 when my mom noticed it. I was bending over, and she saw a big hump on my back. It was like my spine was tipped to the side."

Keri B. is one of thousands of teens her age with scoliosis. In her case the condition was so severe that her doctor said she could develop serious complications by the time she was in her 30s if it wasn't treated.

So Keri had an operation on her back - and more than a year of recovery. But it was worth it. "Now I can do anything but back bends," she laughs. "And I have really good posture!"

Keri wants to let others with scoliosis know what her surgery and recuperation were like. "If I had had another teenager to talk to, it would have been better for me," she said. "I'd like to help others not to be as frightened as I was. I want to be honest about it. Not to scare anyone, but to be realistic," she says.

When they spotted the curve in her back, Keri and her mom went to Keri's doctor. There she was told she might have to wear a back brace. But X-rays showed the curvature was too severe for that - a 50% angle. So Keri was referred to a specialist - an orthopedic surgeon.

The news for Keri was to forget the brace. She would need surgery. She didn't understand why this was happening to her. "Why me?" she kept asking. And all she remembered was the doctor saying, "So you can get better."

Before the operation, she was shown the skeleton of a healthy back and what her own spine looked like. There were several consultations and sessions with Keri, her doctor, her mom, and stepfather.

And during that time, her curvature increased by 10%, making it 60%. The operation was even more necessary. "I was so scared," she recalls. "But I knew I had to go along with it. I didn't have a choice."

The surgery was successful, but that was only the beginning for Keri. Three to 4 days of severe pain were treated with morphine and ibuprofen. But after 3 days, she was out of her hospital bed, walking in her room.

Soon she was home, but she wasn't allowed out for 2 weeks. And then she wasn't able to go to public places where she might get bumped into. She couldn't climb stairs for a while, either. "I felt like I could get knocked down and hurt my back," she remembers.

Because Keri was out of school for 2 months, a tutor came every day and Keri kept up her grades. Friends came to visit and cheer her up. "They were kind of amused at the whole thing. Some thought it was cool. Others thought it was nasty. But they all gave me support."

Finally she went back to her 8th grade class. She often got to sit in her teacher's chair, which was more comfortable than the ones the students used. Now Keri says she feels great. "I went on the Batman roller coaster four times in a row last summer. I also work out in our home gym."

The long, narrow scar that goes from her neck to below her waist brings her some attention. She remembers two guys noticing it when she lay on her stomach at the beach last summer. "They asked me what it was, and when I explained, they said, 'Cool.'"

The whole experience has made her stronger, she feels. "I know I can go through a lot and be strong. I can take on things; I can take on pain."

Keri adds, "If you think you have scoliosis, don't put off doing something about it. No matter how afraid you are. Because there are people out there who can make you better."

Reviewed by: Mary L. Gavin, MD
Date reviewed: August 2002