Shriners Hospitals for Children — Salt Lake City treats patients like Katy Litwiller, who use their experiences to help others. On a whim, Katy decided to audition for NBC’s singing competition The Voice in 2015. Adele’s Rolling in the Deep flowed seemingly effortlessly from Katy’s lips. The judges never suspected that, due to scoliosis, the 15-year-old’s ribs were pressing into her lungs with such force, she would be breathless by the song’s end.
Katy advanced one more round in the show despite being just weeks away from a spinal fusion surgery to correct a 68-degree curve, a procedure that could save her singing career. Katy also needed an osteotomy – a surgical procedure to change a bone’s alignment – to correct a birth defect. The goal was to get her spine to a more manageable 25–30 degree curve by reshaping curved vertebrae. Spine surgeon Stephen Santora, M.D., performed the successful procedure in the fall of 2015, and Katy has been steadily healing and rebuilding her life ever since.
Katy has been the target of bullying, has missed a lot of school and has been excluded from participating in many sports activities because of her scoliosis. However, having scoliosis has also helped her develop a strong sense of empathy, perseverance and bravery. Katy uses Instagram and her profile – @Scoliosis.Superhero – as an outlet for her feelings and a diary about her experiences with scoliosis. About 1,150 people follow her story online – many of whom are teen girls with scoliosis seeking encouragement and advice.
“Instagram has really helped me through this,” Katy said. “I don’t want others to feel alone. I really want to inspire children to stay strong, stay positive. They can get through it.”
Katy was ready to sing again just two weeks after her surgery, so she decided to try out to sing the national anthem for the Phoenix Suns. “I had never felt so dizzy and weak, but I did it,” Katy said proudly.
Katy has since continued pushing herself further than she ever thought possible, including another audition for The Voice in May 2016. While she didn’t advance to the next round, the judges, and even her competing peers, all agreed that her voice is very strong – a testament to the world class care she received at Shriners Hospitals for Children.
Unfazed by her daughter’s relentless drive, her mother Jennifer reflects: “Her voice is her therapy. When she was in trouble, she sang. When she’s happy – she sings." Katy agrees. "We have been blessed by Shriners Hospitals for Children. I feel the love there…it feels more like home than any other hospital I’ve ever been to. Scoliosis doesn’t define me, but I believe scoliosis has made me stronger.”
Scoliosis Awareness Month is observed every June to highlight the growing need for education, early detection and awareness to the public about scoliosis and its prevalence within the community.
Pictured: Katy Litwiller auditions for the television show "The Voice."