Bent in half: Saving Julie from a life of pain

3 percent of people have scoliosis. For most it is a minor problem, but for some children it is severe and requires treatment.

One woman underwent an amazing transformation after spending decades bent in half.

At 39-years-old, Julie Flores enjoys the little things in life like doing the dishes and bringing coffee to her dad. However, it was not long ago Julia’s routine was a lot different.

Julie suffered from scoliosis. It started with a head tilt at the age of five. By the time Julia turned eight, her upper body was bent almost in half. She was diagnosed with dystonia, a movement disorder that causes involuntary muscle spasms. By then, severe scoliosis had set in as well.

Julia’s mom, Lidia Flores says, "I'll never forget one comment a high school boy made who saw her and said ‘oh look at that giraffe.’ “

By the time Julia hit 30, even house work caused unimaginable pain. Then, her mom found Dr Frank Acosta.

Dr. Acosta describes Julie’s conditions. "Hers was an extreme case where her spine was essentially shaped like an S…The basis of her neck is actually shifted over to the left of her pelvis…This is a pretty severe case. One of the worst I have ever seen."

After two operations, Dr. Acosta placed screws down Julia’s spine with help from computer navigation. The goal was to take some pressure off her lung, organs and nerves, and realign her spine.

After 9 weeks at the hospital and 4 months of physical therapy, the operation was a success.

Julia can now stand up straight for the first time in 31 years. Julia says, "I feel like God gave me this whole brand new life again."

Eventually bone will grow up and down Julie’s spine over the rods that were surgically implanted. The years of compression caused some damage to her lungs but Julie is now almost pain-free.

RESEARCH SUMMARY

BACKGROUND: Scoliosis is a sideways curvature of the spine that occurs most often during the growth spurt just before puberty. While scoliosis can be caused by conditions such as cerebral palsy and muscular dystrophy, the cause of most scoliosis is unknown. Most cases of scoliosis are mild, but severe scoliosis can be disabling. An especially severe spinal curve can reduce the amount of space within the chest, making it difficult for the lungs to function properly. (www.mayoclinic.com)

TREATMENT: While there are guidelines for mild, moderate and severe curves, the decision to begin treatment is always made on an individual basis. Factors to be considered include: sex, severity of curve, curve pattern, location of curve and bone maturity. Some treatments include: braces, surgery, and physical therapy. Spinal fusion surgery connects two or more of the bones in your spine (vertebrae) together with new bone. Surgeons may use metal rods, hooks, screws or wires to hold that part of the spine straight and still while the bone heals. The process is similar to what occurs when a broken bone heals. (www.mayclinic.com)

Dr. Acosta: Frank L. Acosta, Jr., MD is the Director of Spine Deformity in the Department of Neurosurgery at Cedars-Sinai. His clinical practice focuses on conditions affecting the spine.
Dr. Acosta's research, which concentrates on the diagnosis and treatment of spine disorders, has been funded by the National Institutes of Health, Harvard Medical School and Howard Hughes Medical Institute grants and fellowships. He has published more than 40 papers in peer-reviewed journals and other publications, including Spine, Neurosurgery, Journal of Neurosurgery: Pediatrics, Journal of Neurosurgery: Spine, Neurosurgical Focus, Neurosurgery Clinics of North America, Surgical Neurology, Cancer Gene Therapy, Chest and Journal of the American Geriatric Society.
He is a member of AOSpine North America, the American Association of Neurological Surgeons and the Congress of Neurological Surgeons.Dr. Acosta earned his bachelor's degree in chemistry magna cum laude from Harvard College and his medical degree from Harvard Medical School. He completed an internship and neurosurgical residency at the University of California, San Francisco, and a fellowship in complex and reconstructive spine surgery at Northwestern University. (www.cedars-sinai.edu)

If this story or any other Ivanhoe story has impacted your life or prompted you or someone you know to seek or change treatments, please let us know by contacting Marsha Hitchcock at mhitchcock@ivanhoe.com.


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