The day they handed me my long-yearned-for baby girl, Lora Leigh, she was simply perfect: ten little fingers, ten little toes, a full head of dark hair and a perfect little bow-shaped mouth.
A few days later, just as we were about to leave the hospital, she turned a strange shade of yellow and was diagnosed with a mild case of Jaundice. After assuring the doctors that I had a bright, sunny, curtain-less home, they allowed us to take our precious baby girl home with us.
And she was, indeed, perfect – the most trouble-free baby a first-time mom could ask for. She rarely cried, she slept through the night very quickly and often well into the next day. She drank cold bottles straight out of the fridge and was almost never sick. I’m not kidding. In the 13 years she’s been on this earth, I can recall two stomach upheavals, one case of thrush, one bout with strep, and one case of the flu. She did have a couple of bladder infections, mainly because she would rather wait until the very last second than stop whatever she’s doing to go use the bathroom.
Her doctor’s appointments have been, for the most part, the annual kind, where they measure her and weigh her and give her shots. You know, routine stuff.Until she turned 11.
Just a few weeks after her Harry Potter Birthday Extravaganza of 2012, at her annual checkup, her pediatrician, Dr. Danielle Calix, noticed something was off. Lora’s shoulders were crooked, so were her hips, and one side of her back rose higher than the other. She made Lora bend over to touch her toes (which she could not do).
“I think this is Scoliosis,” the doctor said, and sent us off for X-rays.
A series of X-rays later confirmed it. My beautiful, perfect baby girl had “significant” Scoliosis, with a lumbar curve of 31 degrees.
Oh, I knew something wasn’t right. I knew her posture was a little off and that she always looked rather awkward. I just chalked it up to her height and, well, puberty. She always was off the charts for her age and one of the tallest in her class. But I never noticed there was something wrong with her – not until I knew what to look for.
According to the Scoliosis Research Society, Scoliosis is an abnormal lateral curvature of the spine. On an X-ray, the spine will curve like an “S” or a “C.” Although mostly seen in adolescent girls, it can affect anyone of any age, male or female. The most common form is Idiopathic Scoliosis, which has no known cause. Only 2 to 3 percent of the population is diagnosed with Scoliosis, but girls/women are eight times more likely to develop the condition. There is no cure. The main treatment is bracing through early puberty in hopes of slowing the progression of the curve. Once a curve approaches 50 degrees, most orthopedists recommend spinal fusion surgery, during which rods, screws and pins are inserted into the bent portion of the spine to straighten it. Left untreated, the curvature of the spine can cause a myriad of problems later on, including breathing problems, pressure on internal organs and pain. Some doctors do believe in alternative treatments, including yoga, pilates and other forms of exercise.
Shortly after her diagnosis, Lora was fitted for a hard plastic brace, also known as a Boston Brace, which she wore for 12 to 13 hours every day. After a few days of trying it at school, Lora elected to wear hers mostly at night. For a while, it worked. Her curve went from 31 to 33 to 35 degrees, which is considered an acceptable progression. At one point her doctor declared that he did not believe surgery would be necessary.
Then she hit a growth spurt.
We were sent to see an orthopedic surgeon. Now my perfect baby girl, who is now a moody 13-year-old teenager, is scheduled to undergo a 5 to 7 hour surgery on July 3rd, which, we hope, will straighten her spine and let her lead a normal life. When it’s over, she also will be about three inches taller.
And we owe it all to a diligent pediatrician who knew just what to look for:
- Uneven shoulders and/or hips
- An uneven waist
- A shoulder blade that protrudes more than the other
- One side of the back is higher than the other
Of course, now that I know what to look for, I see it everywhere. I was interviewing a tall, young baseball player just a few weeks ago and noticed that his shoulders were very crooked. I urged his coach to get him checked. I also spotted it in a photograph of a supermodel who was doing a simple yoga pose with her infant daughter. I’m certain that my late mother-in-law developed Scoliosis late in her life, which caused her great pain.
June is National Scoliosis Awareness Month, and I hope parents will see Lora’s story and learn from it. I know there is nothing I could have done to prevent this. Scoliosis may be genetic or it may be caused by a miscommunication in the brain. Lora was adopted at birth, so it may have been passed on from her biological parents. I know I beat myself up for not seeing it myself, for not spotting it, but I also know it wouldn’t have made a difference. And while I am very anxious about her upcoming surgery, we are convinced it is the best course for her.
I have learned that, in England, there is very little known about Scoliosis. Doctors do not routinely check for it. Through an online support group, I have seen many adults who are in extreme pain and are just now learning that they have Scoliosis, but their doctors won’t touch them. We can only wonder what early intervention would have done.
The key, of course, is education and awareness. Many schools in our area do routine Scoliosis checks every year. Good pediatricians (like ours) know what to look for. But parents should too.
About Lori Lyons
Lori Lyons, a former Times-Picayune reporter, is a freelance sports writer for several local news and sports outlets and mom blogger. Married to former Destrehan baseball coach Marty Luquet, she has successfully navigated the perils of stepmotherhood, infertility, adoption and caring for aging parents. She is the stepmother to Daniel, 31, and Courtney Luquet, 28, and the mom to 13-year-old Lora Leigh. She writes about her family, baseball, adoption and, now, Scoliosis, at her blog The Lyons Din.