Stepping past scoliosis

The unmistakable rhythmic tapping of fleet feet, stepping perfectly in time to traditional Celtic music, is a hallmark of Irish dance. This traditional dance form also prizes straight legs, straight arms – and a straight back. For champion Irish dancer Kendall Thomas, a 14-year-old from Plano, scoliosis kept her from having a straight back, as well as the ability to dance without pain.

“My shoulders had started to get uneven,” Kendall recalled. “With Irish dancing, you have to be completely straight and have perfect posture. I was getting really bad back pain when I would dance. When I was in competition, I was in tears because my back hurt so badly. But I love to dance.”

When Kendall was in fifth grade, a routine scoliosis check prompted the school nurse to send a note home to Kendall’s mom. “I hadn’t even heard that word before, ‘scoliosis,’ and I couldn’t even say it. I just knew it had something to do with the spine,” Kendall remembers. X-rays revealed the curve in Kendall’s back had already progressed to a 28-degree curve in the thoracic, or top, and a 19-degree curve in the lumbar area. Because she had not yet stopped growing, Kendall’s doctors at the time recommended she wear a back brace to try and correct the curve.

K.T. scoliosis pre-op-web

Thomas’s spine pre-operation.

“My spine was really stiff,” Kendall said. “I didn’t want anyone to know about my scoliosis, and I was really self- conscious about it. But still, the thought of surgery was really frightening to an 11-year-old, so I wore my brace.”

Kendall wore several different braces over a three-year period. Despite wearing the braces, her curve progressed – to 47 degrees. Kendall was also having regular bouts of back pain which is not always typical in these cases.

She and her family found the Scoliosis & Spine Tumor Center at Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital Plano and its medical director, Dr. Isador Lieberman, a fellowship-trained orthopedic and spine surgeon. Kendall first met Dr. Lieberman when she and her friends in Curvy Girls, an international support group for girls with scoliosis, took blankets they had made to the hospital for other kids going through surgery. Kendall started the Dallas chapter of the national organization, which meets once a month in Plano and offers a network for members to stay in touch regularly.

“Meeting Kendall’s family through Curvy Girls was fortunate,” said Sara Brice, Director of the Scoliosis & Spine Tumor Center. “It was obvious that they were looking for a program that would treat them – the whole family – like more than a number, which is how we approach every patient in our Center, as if they are our only patient.”

“By this time we knew the staff pretty well in Dr. Lieberman’s office and were really comfortable with them,” Kendall recalls, “so we made the decision to switch over there. At my first appointment, we realized that was a good idea.”

“Of all the doctors I’ve been to, he is definitely my favorite,” Kendall said of Dr. Lieberman. “Other doctors talked more to my mom. It was the first time anyone had asked how I was feeling. He explained everything directly to me, and that helped me feel better about my decision to go forward with the surgery.”

“Kendall is a wonderful young woman who understood very well what scoliosis is and how she was affected by it,” said Dr. Lieberman. “She asked the right questions and wanted to get back to competing as quickly as possible. I am honored she chose me to help her.”

During surgery, it took Dr. Lieberman seven hours to insert the instrumentation needed in Kendall’s back to correct the curvature of her spine. She was walking by the next day. “He came in every morning and checked on me,” Kendall remembers. After a few nights in the hospital, Kendall continued her recovery at home. Now, she is returning to light activity and continues physical therapy to help her regain her flexibility and muscle strength.

Thomas’s spine post-operation.

Kendall hopes to return to Irish dancing soon, which Dr. Lieberman expects her to be able to do. For now, she’s grateful for the support that the Scoliosis & Spine Tumor Center showed as she made the decision to go forward with surgery to help correct her scoliosis.

“I thought that having surgery was the end of the world and that I would never dance or feel like myself again. None of that is true,” Kendall said. “Now, I look forward to dancing. There is life after surgery, and you can go back to being your old self quickly.”

For Kendall, it’s one step at a time. And she can’t wait for the day that those steps are in time to her favorite Irish dancing music.

Click here for more information on the Scoliosis & Spine Tumor Center.





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