Fifteen-year old Morgan Martin, a Rock Island High School sophomore, is looking forward for the chance to play on the Rocks’ JV soccer team this spring. She is gaining strength and standing strong after nearly 5 years of treatment for a deformed spine.
Morgan was diagnosed with scoliosis at age 9 and has spent her early teen years in treatment.
“My father is in the service and while our family was stationed in Hawaii, my pediatrician discovered my curved spine during a routine physical when he asked me to bend down and touch my toes,” recalls Morgan.
As a young teenager, Morgan underwent physical therapy in Germany and wore a back brace 23 hours a day.
“I hated the brace,” says Morgan. “I would wear a t-shirt, put on the brace, then wear another t-shirt over it, then dress in my regular clothes for school. I was allowed to take the brace off for an hour. When I would sit, it would dig into my hips.” Morgan wore the brace for 2 years.
Dr. Pyevich determined that Morgan’s back had not improved and still showed a significant curve.
“A person’s spine has a natural curve when normally viewed from the side, but not when viewed from the front or back. Patients with scoliosis have spines that are not just curved on the frontal plane, but also have a twist or a torsional component. Morgan’s curve looked like the letter ‘S’ and it was significant.”
For Morgan, Dr. Pyevich recommended surgery.
“Back braces do not straighten the spine, they only keep a spine from curving further. I recommended surgery so that her spine would be straight again.”
In February 2014 she underwent back surgery as Dr. Pyevich fused 13 segments of her vertebrae from just below her neck to her lower back.
“I surgically implanted a series of screws and hooks along her spine, then inserted two rods to hold the spine straight and lock it into place. It’s similar to putting braces on teeth, except this procedure straightens a spine immediately as opposed to the gradual straightening with orthodontic braces,” Dr. Pyevich explains.
The surgery is done in about 4 hours and patients are able to return to sports once their spine fuses.
Morgan’s journey is not unusual. Dr. Pyevich says that her type of scoliosis (called idiopathic scoliosis) is found most often in adolescent girls between the ages of 10-14.
“We don’t know what causes it, but we look for it when girls do most of their growing. Boys have varied growth rates over a longer period of years and tend not to suffer from idiopathic scoliosis as much as young women do.”
Screening is fairly simple: Dr. Pyevich says parents should ask their pediatrician to screen children after age 10. A physician will ask the patient to bend forward and touch their toes, in order to see if the child’s spine is straight. A parent may also suspect scoliosis if they notice that their child has a visible rib hump on his or her back.
Since scoliosis is not a painful condition, parents must be vigilant about screening during a young teen’s growth years.
“It’s also important to keep in mind that scoliosis can affect anyone at any age, as it’s often recognizable by the telltale bump on the back,” says Dr. Pyevich.
While scoliosis is not caused by heavy backpacks or poor posture, left untreated, severe cases can worsen over time, impairing heart and lung function.
For Morgan, successful surgery means that as spring nears, she hopes to play defense for the Rock Island Rocks’ JV soccer team.
“Now I’m good, and I can pretty much do whatever I want. I don’t really notice it anymore. Dr. Pyevich explained everything to me,” she says. “He was really great and helped me a lot.”
Each year Dr. Pyevich sees more than 500 Quad-City area patients in his scoliosis clinics. If you have questions or need to schedule an appointment at ORA’s Pediatric Orthopedic Center, call ORA Orthopedics at (563) 322-0971.