Living with Scoliosis: Jessica’s Story

During a routine check for scoliosis during physical education class in seventh grade, a teacher noticed a slight curve in Jessica’s spine. A trip to her pediatrician soon followed. X-rays showed a thirty degree curve and since that was considered slight, follow-up imaging was recommended for a year later. By that time Jessica’s curve worsened by 15 degrees, and she was referred to Dr. Afshin Aminian, pediatric orthopaedic surgeon and director of the CHOC Orthopaedic Institute.

Bracing was initially recommended to try to prevent Jessica’s curve from getting worse.

“People my age don’t know that much about scoliosis even though it’s so common,” says Jessica. “I only had to wear my brace at night while I was sleeping, so no one ever really saw it or had the opportunity to tease me because of it, but they still asked questions, like was it comfortable or not.”

Although Jessica was vigilant about wearing her brace as instructed, her curve worsened by another twenty degrees, to nearly 70, and surgery was recommended. As a lifelong dancer, and a member of her high school’s competitive dance team, Jessica was initially worried that having surgery to correct this significant curve would affect her flexibility.

Jessica’s spine, before and after surgery.

“It’s very common for children or adolescent patients to be hesitant or even fearful when they first hear they need surgery,” says Dr. Aminian. “We encourage all of our patients to ask a lot of questions so they really feel like they are involved in their care team. We remind them that the team of orthopaedic surgeons at CHOC uses the very latest methods in a setting that’s specially designed for kids and teens, so they are in the best hands possible.”

Jessica’s surgery was ultimately set for winter break during her sophomore year of high school.

“All of my nurses were so impressed that I was up and walking the next day, but after I went home it was harder than I thought to move around” she said.

At a check-up with Dr. Aminian a few weeks later, Jessica was healing so well that she was able to return to school three weeks after surgery, as opposed to the three month break she had expected. Thanks to her flexibility as a dancer prior to surgery, she could even touch her toes at her follow up appointment, to the surprise of her care team.

Getting back into the groove of a full school day did not come without challenges. To protect her spine as it continued to heal, Jessica had to adjust to sitting for longer periods of time, something she slowly worked up to before returning to school. She also brought a small pillow to school to make her desk more comfortable, and made arrangements with teachers to keep textbooks in class so she didn’t have to carry them around.

“For an active person like me, not being able to bend, twist or lift anything for three months was hard, but in the end it made me thankful because my recovery was temporary, and overall I am really healthy,” she says.

Jessica knew she wanted to document her recovery phase, so she asked her mom to film some footage while she was in the hospital. That eventually morphed into a series of YouTube videos educating others on scoliosis, recovery tips, and sharing her own journey with the condition. When she was diagnosed, she knew others who had scoliosis, but no one’s curve was as severe as her own, so some peer-to-peer questions were left unanswered.

After her own successful scoliosis surgery, Jessica now imparts wisdom on other teens suffering from scoliosis.

“I want other scoliosis patients to know that it’s going to be hard, and you will have times when you can’t do something, but I promise it will get easier if you just go at your own pace and follow your doctor’s guidelines,” she says. “I love getting messages from people that watch my videos, thanking me for helping to calm their nerves before surgery.”

Filming these videos and helping other patients has helped to fill the void that dancing left. After losing one year of practice time due to surgery and recovery, Jessica decided not to go back to dancing.

“I’m busy in different ways now,” says Jessica. “Dancing provided great memories for me, but I’m on to a new chapter now.”

15 thoughts on “Living with Scoliosis: Jessica’s Story”

  1. Wow… this exactly what my story is about! I was in 7th grade as well. Speedy recovery and know 20 plus yrs later i have 3 children and living with rods in my back! I am 34 yrs old know!

  2. Oh my goodness that sounds exactly what my daughter had . she was 16 yrs old when she had Sergery too! Her spine whent to a 40* angle Its so amazing what Drs. Could do now!!!!

  3. I am so happy for this child. I went through this 50 years ago . My treatment lasted nearly 4 years. Treatment was new. Two weeks in traction. Followed by a plaster cast from chin to hips. I had to be home schooled because the size and weight of the cast made it very difficult. The cast was replaced with. Milwaukee brace. I wore that for over a year. I had surgery to place Harrington rods in my spine. That was followed by 4 months in bed. After physical therapy. The brace was removed. I have lived healthily ever since. Medical science has progressed so much since. Then. Good luck and good health, young lady.

  4. Jessica you have helped me so much through my recent scoliosis surgery. I found your YouTube videos a few months before my surgery and was completely inspired! I am about 6 weeks post op and your generosity and understanding made it much easier to recover and knowing someone went through the same thing I did. I’m so excited about your blog! I hope you continue to inspire many more people like you did for me

  5. You are so strong Jessica! I love your videos and this story is very inspirational, I’m a girl with scoliosis too, & soon to have surgery. Thanks for the help! (;

  6. I’m going threw scoliosis and waiting for an apointment as we speak is it better to get it down in private as my dad is trying to get me in private and when I do have it done will mine b a successful as Jessica’s I am not a dancer or anything like that but I am quite flexible. I am starting to worry about it but don’t know how to tell my mum and dad that I’m scared with out making them upset ?!

    1. You’re encouraged to share your feelings with your parents, and discuss possible surgery outcomes with your physician.

  7. Jessica, you are such an amazing person. Thank you for making Scoliosis videos, as they are helping me with the surgery i might have in the future. I wish the best for you and your family, and i hope everything in life works out for you.

  8. Thank you so much for sharing this story! My 6-year-old has been diagnosed and it has been a learning curve and the positive story and the following comments have been so great. Thank you.

  9. I wanted to thank you for being so brave and telling your story. My daughter is 14 and just found out she has scoliosis hers is 67 curve and 68 curve. She is very nervous and I am going to let her read your story.

  10. Jessica—my son is 7 days post op and getting really down about having had the surgery. Can you email me with some reassuring messages for him? When did you start to feel like everything would be ok? Any help would be appreciated!

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