Eighteen-year-old Kristi has always enjoyed being active, mainly in the form of running, cycling and weight training. When she was diagnosed at age 13 with scoliosis, she and her family were hesitant to go the surgical route. "I was worried that I wouldn't be able to be as active as I used to be," she says. In the end, the outcome was the exact opposite of her concerns.
Scoliosis — a sideways curvature of the spine — is most often discovered in adolescents. Because the curve develops gradually, it can go undetected. That was the case with Kristi: Her sister was the one who saw that one side of Kristi's back appeared to have a bump. "Once we noticed it, we realized it was pretty severe," says Kristi.
Indeed, during an appointment with Children's Hospital of Philadelphia's (CHOP) Division of Orthopaedics, the family learned that the treatment options included surgery. That was a step Kristi and her family were not ready to take. Over the next few years, Kristi was monitored, and then she wore a brace for two years, but it didn't help. Now surgery seemed like the right choice, as both spinal curves had progressed to more than 65 degrees.
The procedure involves fusing titanium rods to each side of the spine. "I was very nervous," Kristi admits. "Being active is a big part of my life. Recovery would take months." In January 2020, when she was 17, Keith D. Baldwin, MD, MPH, MSPT, the Director of Orthopaedic Trauma and an attending orthopaedic surgeon, performed the surgery, which lasted more than nine hours.
Her recovery was steady: walking slowly for three weeks, feeling stronger after six weeks. She puts her total recovery time at eight months — "And I could do more than before!" The curved spine had reduced her lung capacity. After surgery, "I could breathe better, and I have more endurance now."
She has experienced one setback. She fell at the gym and broke her wrist, sending her back to Dr. Baldwin for another surgery. Her medical journey and her active lifestyle have put her on a career path: She's studying Health and Exercise Science at the College of New Jersey. "Through the surgeries and the healing process, I have gained an interest in wellness and strength," she says. "My faith in God, support from family, and the amazing medical team at CHOP were anchors in my journey and recovery."