I was diagnosed with mild scoliosis when I was eight years old. Scoliosis is a medical condition where the spine develops a curvature as it grows. Although it is a relatively common condition affecting about 2% of teenagers, only about 1/1000 of those teenagers require surgical intervention (a curve greater than 45 degrees). Scoliosis curves can be observed using x-rays and are then measured using geometry. Initially, the orthopedic surgeon that I saw recommended observation of my curve with regular x-rays, but as I grew older it became obvious that my curve was worsening. Eventually my doctor recommended that I begin to wear a brace at night, but my spine continued to curve at an alarming rate. It quickly got to the point where my friends and family could physically see my worsening condition, not just from x-rays. I still felt like I was in good hands with my orthopedic surgeon, but he continued to recommend that I wear my brace at night even though my spine had curved well beyond 45 degrees.
In one year my scoliosis curvature had progressed an additional 30 degrees, measuring in at 85 degrees! It was mainly focused in my thoracic spine resulting in a twisted and contorted rib cage. Eventually the stiffness and twisting of my rib cage lead to a condition known as restrictive lung disease in which the lungs are unable to inflate properly. At this point I had trouble keeping up with my daily activities. I had always played as a goalie on my lacrosse team but that was becoming difficult due to my breathing troubles and I began to have more issues both physically and emotionally. I am blessed to have a very supportive family and group of people around me, however. My family was always there to rally around me and my lacrosse coach, Jon, became an important motivator for me. He was familiar with scoliosis-related ailments and his brother-in-law actually passed from pneumonia related to the disorder. Jon encouraged me to become “as strong and flexible as possible before surgery.” He developed an exercise and rehabilitation program for me to keep me as healthy as possible. Our motto was to “FIGHT BACK!” and this helped give me the motivation I needed to move forward.
My orthopedic surgeon continued to tell me to wear my brace at night, so my family decided to explore other avenues. We found Dr. Christopher Good at Virginia Spine Institute. As soon as Dr. Good met with me, my treatment moved forward quickly. I had a full evaluation of my spine and even received pulmonary function testing to determine how my lungs were impacted from the scoliosis – I had lost over 52% of my lung function. My reconstructive surgery would involve correcting the curvature and rotation in my spine with metal implants (“screws and rods”). My spine had grown so stiff that Dr. Good said it would be necessary to make cuts through the joints in my spine to give it enough flexibility to be maneuvered into an acceptable position. For every day we waited, the size of the curve and stiffness progressed, increasing the risk and complexity of the surgical procedure. In September I underwent surgery from T2-L3 (14 levels) and while it did take all day, it was successful!
After surgery, my hard work with Coach Jon began to pay off big time! I recovered at record pace and Dr. Good even said I was one of the toughest young men he had ever taken care of. I spent one night in the ICU, but went home just four days after the major surgery. I was even able to come off of all pain medications within days after the surgery. At home I continued working hard toward recovery and starting taking short walks with my family to increase my strength. Within two weeks I was taking long walks. While I was careful to give my spine time to heal, I began working on strengthening my legs and calming the muscle spasms. When I was cleared for physical activity by Dr. Good I began working with very light weights, lifting and performing many repetitions to regain tone and flexibility. After some time I was able to begin running and performing full exercises! Three months post-op I didn’t have any residual pain in my back and continued increasing my exercise routine with the goal of getting back to play as a goalie on my lacrosse team. Amazingly I was able to get into such great shape that I started as goalie for the JV team and played every single game! I was even called up to play varsity at the end of my season. I am continuing to train and build my strength and I think I’m ready to begin varsity this coming year!
One year out from surgery I continue to focus on getting stronger everyday and maintaining a healthy life. As my coach says, “life is about endurance”.
Our motto was to “FIGHT BACK!” and this helped give me the motivation I needed to move forward.
I was working hard with my coach to build strength and flexibility, but my first doctor only recommended bracing, even after my curve changed 30 degrees in one year.
At my one-year postoperative appointment with Dr. Good, my x-rays showed a remarkable correction of my spinal curvature from 85 degrees to 35 degrees. My pulmonary doctor also performed testing on my lungs and my lung function has already improved by 50% since surgery!
I completed a six day trek, hiking over 50 miles at high altitudes with my Boy Scout Troop. I was able to carry my 45-pound pack on the grueling hike through rugged terrain – Dr. Good was impressed I was able to complete the task as he completed the same hike when he became an Eagle Scout!
The sky is the limit with this motivated young man! This story is a true testament to Christian’s individual strength and to the undying support of his family, friends, and coaches. They have always looked forward, remained positive, and in the end his belief that he could be cured has helped him to overcome what for some people can become a crippling spinal condition. He and his family are an inspiration to our spine team, and to all other patients facing spinal deformities of their own. I thoroughly enjoyed working with Christian and his parents during his course of treatment and surgery. It is so rewarding to see him years after surgery at our annual We’ve Got Your Back race for spinal health.