Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Mom of college athlete who had scoliosis surgery shares her story.

At age nine, Sabrina was diagnosed with idiopathic scoliosis with a twenty degree double curvature; meaning, her spine was S-shaped due to a thoracic curve and a lumbar curve jutted in opposite directions. For a year she only had x-rays every few months to monitor the curvature as she grew. At age ten, it increased to twenty-eight degrees, so she was placed in a full body (torso) bending brace twelve hours a day. The bending brace overcorrected her spine to allow only twelve hours per day wear versus twenty-four hours. She wore the brace for five years and had x-rays regularly to monitor the curvature. At age fifteen, an x-ray of her hip showed the growth plate closed, indicating she was nearly done growing. Scoliosis protocol at that point indicates bracing is no longer necessary.  

Every patient is different, and for Sabrina the curvature worsened out of the brace, the first year to thirty-three degrees. An increase isn’t uncommon as the body adjusts to life without a brace, but unfortunately her increase continued. When she was seventeen, her curve worsened to thirty-seven degrees. Less than a year later, to forty-four degrees. That x-ray led to Sabrina’s five-hour surgery May 2012 at Duke Raleigh Hospital, performed by Dr. Lloyd Hey, the top scoliosis surgeon in America who operates on professional and college athletes.
Sabrina’s freshman year in college (fall 2011), she started to suffer acute lower back pain. A full scholarship swimmer at Virginia Tech, she pushed through the pain during the swim season, especially at ACC Championships in February 2012 and NCAA Championships in March 2012. From fall 2011 to spring 2012, she endured three in-hospital spinal injections and took pain meds and an anti-inflammatory regularly. Due to the year of intense pain she suffered, her Virginia Tech coach was stunned by her performance at ACC’s—she broke records and her performance qualified her for NCAA Championships. At NCAA’s, her right leg numbed due to nerve involvement and her back muscles froze to protect her spine. Soon after, an x-ray showed her curvature at forty-four degrees. Surgery from T5-L1 (thoracic #5 to lumbar #1) was now inevitable.
Since x-rays give an extreme limited view, Dr. Hey’s three-dimensional direct view was only available via surgery, and during Sabrina’s five-hour surgery on May 2, 2012, he found her rib cage concaved in four inches due to the rotation of her spinal curve (Think: thoracic spine curved to the side and twisted inward). He straightened her severely crooked spine, fused her vertebras, and inserted two parallel titanium rods and twelve screws to hold her spine straight in-line. Sabrina is proud of her scar from her thirteen-inch incision. It’s a reminder of how much she’s overcome.  

Unbelievably, less than eight weeks post that surgery, she competed at the 2012 US Olympic Swim Team Trials for a spot on the US Olympic Swim Team that competed in the 2012 Summer Olympics in London. She qualified to swim at US Olympic Trials back in August 2010, and she refused to not go and try to swim her best, so she started to get back in shape only a couple weeks post scoliosis surgery, and she battled pain as her body adjusted to the new positioning of her spine, scapulas, shoulders and rib cage as well as all the surrounding muscles, tendons and ligaments. She only began to find her new stroke with her new back when she swam in US Olympic Swim Team Trials.

Sabrina is currently training hard at Virginia Tech to compete at ACC Championships in February 2013.

I’m so thankful for Dr. Hey's expertise and talent. Not only is he a skilled surgeon, he’s a man of God. Minutes before Sabrina was wheeled into surgery, Dr. Hey and his surgical RN offered to pray with us. My husband and I and our two younger children gathered hands with Sabrina, Dr. Hey and the RN, and the seven of us prayed. Just a few hours after Sabrina’s surgery, Dr. Hey and our family of five again gathered hands and prayed, this time in thanks.

Through my husband’s cancer, God led us to the Hey Clinic. Sabrina’s dad endured two surgeries and radiation treatments at Duke Raleigh Cancer Center; inside that same building is Dr. Hey’s office. As my husband and I approached the door to his   Duke oncologist for the first time, I spotted Hey Clinic Spinal Surgery right across the hall. Soon after, I transferred Sabrina’s records from her first scoliosis orthopedist to the Hey Clinic, sensing somehow behind that door was the right scoliosis expert for her.   

Thanks Dr. Hey!

(Sabrina’s mom)

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