It is a special back-to-school this year for Greg, a high school student from suburban Chicago. Greg returns to classes almost 7 inches taller than when he finished school last spring! That extreme growth is not just due to his genes. He’s taller because of the intensive scoliosis treatment he received over the 2017 summer at Shriners Hospitals for Children — Chicago.
Greg has a severe form of scoliosis, an abnormal curvature of his spine that can restrict movement and in some cases lead to severe medical complication. In scoliosis, some bones of the spine may also rotate slightly, causing the person’s waist or shoulders to appear uneven.
Diagnosed as a child
Greg’s curvy journey began with the Adam’s Forward Bend Test when he was a young child. Greg had a family history of scoliosis so his parents knew he may be at higher risk. He was diagnosed with an abnormal curve and at age 6 he began wearing a brace. This device can help some children avoid developing a worse curve as they grow. “I outgrew the brace fairly quickly and I didn’t like to wear it,” Greg said. “The spine curve did affect Gregory’s childhood,” Shari, Greg’s mother said. “Kids can be cruel. Comments were made. He complained of back pain, but it didn’t stop him from being active and attending school functions.”
As he grew, Greg had periodic checks of his scoliosis curve with his doctor. But then a growth spurt in late junior high made his curve dramatically worse. “He developed sort of a hunchback,” Shari said. The severe spine curve began to impact Greg’s breathing by restricting the internal space for his lungs. Greg has always played hockey and volleyball but his scoliosis made it difficult to even participate in gym class. “My curve didn’t really get bad until eighth grade. I didn’t really notice but people would point it out,” Greg said. “I would make jokes about being the Hunchback of Notre Dame, it was kind of me coping, joking about it got me through it.”
Referred to spine specialists at Shriners Hospital
Greg was under the care of a physician at another Chicago hospital and scheduled for surgery, but the doctor referred him to Shriners Hospital to obtain halo spine traction. In halo traction, a weighted rope is hung from a metal halo that is surgically attached to a patient’s skull. This treatment can stretch a patient’s spine, helping it straighten and in some cases may reduce the amount of surgical spine correction that is needed. “I set a new hospital record for the amount of weight on my halo traction,” Greg said. “My curve was pretty intense so I knew surgery would happen at some point.”
The combination of treatment and surgery reduced Greg’s curve dramatically. His spine curve went from 95 degrees to 40 degrees.
During his care, Greg was also among the early patients to use the EOS low dose radiation technology offered at the Chicago Shriners Hospital. He said the 30 second X-ray is much more convenient than older machines. “In other x-rays I had to stand 10 minutes getting images retaken.”
Today Greg, age 16, is standing taller and his posture is much better. “My chest is more prominent. I have new posture now. I’m like a completely different person.” He looks forward to attending high school and focusing on things other than his spine curve.
“My advice to other parents is to seek treatment as soon as they can,” Shari said. “Seek a second opinion from doctors that are experts in this field. I’ve lived in Chicago more than half my life. I was aware of Shriners Hospital but never knew they specialized in spine care for children.”
Shriners Hospitals for Children now offers a free app, an educational tool to help parents check their child’s spine for possible signs of scoliosis. The SpineScreen app is available for free on the App Store and Google Play.
“As a parent of a patient myself I tried the app on my own children. After you complete the screening, it asks if you would like to set a reminder to screen again. I like that it offers a reminder because this is a screening that should be done every year as kids grow,” Molly Grant, a certified nurse practitioner at Shriners Hospitals for Children — Chicago said. “The App is offered in Spanish and English, allowing us to provide this educational resource to more families in our communities.” For more information visit shrinershospitalsforchildren.org/scoliosis.