Ashleigh’s Story

14 years of age at surgery
Double major curve – 54 degree left lumbar and 44 degree right thoracic

At the age of 13 years I was told I had to have an operation to correct my spine because I had a double major scoliosis, 54 degree left lumbar scoliosis and a 44 right thoracic curve. Getting told at 13 that I had to have back surgery was very hard to take in at the time as I didn’t know what to think or feel. I hadn’t even heard of scoliosis.

It was late November 2010 when after a swim at the beach I noticed a lump on one side of my back. After seeing my GP and having x-rays done, a specialist appointment was made for February 2011. This was a strange time as I was fairly fit playing sport, water polo, hockey and swimming squad once a week. My back didn’t give me any pain.

Meeting the specialist was strange because I wasn’t prepared for the news. My parents were as shocked as I was. I was sent for more x-rays and I was also sent to have an MRI. My MRI showed that I had an Arnold Chiari malformation and I was sent to see a neurologist and had another MRI done. I also had a second opinion that confirmed I needed surgery sooner rather than later. I was also sent to see a cardiologist to check my heart.

I can’t explain the feelings I had. The specialist shows you images of what your back will look like. They’re very scary to see. I was also told I couldn’t play sport for 12 months and possibly that I may not be able to return to playing hockey after my operation. I wasn’t happy about that.

As it got closer to the operation I was scared because I didn’t know what would happen. The specialist has to advise you of all the things that could go wrong. I knew that I needed this operation or I would end up with a very painful and crooked back. I did all I could to keep fit before the operation, walking and swimming, until I broke my collarbone in May.

On the 25th of August 2011 I had my operation. It was over 5 hours long and I ended up with a spinal fusion from T4 to L4. I spent 1 night in intensive care then was moved to the children’s ward. I spent 5 days in hospital. In hospital you are on lots of pain killers and get very tired easily. The physios in the hospital had me sitting up and out of bed on day 2 and walking on day 3. I felt really weak and felt like I would faint standing up but was told this was ok.

A week after I had left hospital I went back to see my doctor to see how I was feeling and to check how my scar was healing. He measured how tall I was and I had become 4cm taller than I was before the operation and my curves had been reduced to 15 and 41 degrees. The operation had gone well. I had 6 weeks off school and 2 of those weeks were luckily in the school holidays.

The specialist gave me some instructions about what I could do physically for the next 9 months. One thing was that I couldn’t play sport for 9 months and no PE lessons. I was lucky that for the 6 weeks I was off school I was able to go walking in a pool at my grandparents’ place. I found this quite helpful as I was able to walk supported in the water. I was also able to shower and wash my hair easier there than at home.

After 9 months I went back to swimming. I did swimming once a week and Pilates to strengthen my core and help make me more flexible. It is now 18 months since my operation. I have returned to hockey this year and can participate in most sport at school. Last year I went to France on a school excursion and was able to participate in everything.

I am happy that I had my operation because it made straighter and taller and if I didn’t have it done I could have had really bad back pain.