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Children Our Everything
Children. Our Everything. is published quarterly by the CHOC Children's Foundation. It features stories about patients, donors, board members and community involvement; and news about guilds, events, Children's Miracle Network and hospital updates. It is mailed to donors who support CHOC with a gift of $50 or more.

Scoliosis surgery restores young girl's grace, agility

“I have to break your daughter’s back in order to fix it.” Kristen and Tony Petros kept turning the surgeon’s words over in their minds. Their 13-year-old daughter, Emily, had been diagnosed with scoliosis several years ago, and now what had once been a flicker of worry had turned into something much larger. Emily was going to need spinal surgery; and the procedure would be anything but simple.

It seemed like yesterday that Emily was competing in dance competitions and bringing home awards. Always an active girl, nothing stood in Emily’s way. Then, when Emily was 11, her spine began curving to the right. Her pediatrician diagnosed Emily with scoliosis, an abnormal “S-shaped” or “C-shaped” curvature of the spine, and kept an eye on the curve to see whether it would progress.

Two years later, Emily’s spine took a drastic turn to the right—a near 55 degree angle, to be exact.

According to the Scoliosis Research Society, about 2 percent of the adolescent population, usually girls, has some degree of spinal asymmetry, but only about 25 percent of them will need treatment. Depending on the severity of the curve, surgery may be recommended.

“We were referred to Dr. Afshin Aminian, medical director of the CHOC Children’s Orthopaedic Institute and an expert in scoliosis surgery,” Kristen recalls. “He explained that once a curvature of the spine reached 40 degrees, surgery to fuse the spine was our best option to reduce the curvature and prevent any further progression of the abnormality.”

Left untreated, a severe curvature of the spine will not only result in a physical deformity but in cardiopulmonary distress caused by the spine rotating the chest and closing down the space available for the lungs and heart.

The procedure itself was daunting. Emily’s spine would be broken in three places; then, hooks and screws would be used to anchor long rods in her spine. Pieces of her own ribs would be used to “glue” her vertebrae back together. Once her bones fused, her spine would remain straight and the curve would be unable to progress.

“We were scared by the prospect of our daughter undergoing such extreme surgery, but the alternative was unthinkable,” Kristen and Tony remember. “We did our research and found out that Dr. Aminian is internationally renowned for his research on scoliosis, so we felt we were in good hands.”

“Dr. Aminian was always straightforward with us, insisting he explain everything to Emily directly. We were very appreciative of this approach, as it involved Emily in the decision-making process; it was her body, and she needed to understand what was happening,” Kristen explains.

“He also put us in touch with another family whose daughter had undergone the same procedure. This helped tremendously, as we had someone who could guide us through the process from a family’s perspective,” Kristen concludes.

Emily underwent scoliosis surgery in June of 2008; nine months later, she walks tall and with grace. Although a full recovery from spinal surgery is likely to take a year, Emily has already been able to resume normal movement and engage in activities she loves. She looks forward to getting back to her favorite passion: dancing.


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chocChildren's Hospital of Orange County | UCI University of California, Irvine

Children's Hospital of Orange County is affiliated with UC Irvine Healthcare and UC Irvine School of Medicine

CHOC Children's - 1201 W La Veta Ave, Orange, CA. Phone: 714-997-3000. .