My Scoliosis Story By Hollyn Finkemeier While most 11-year-old girls are thinking about slumber parties and ballet class, I was diagnosed with Idiopathic Scoliosis when my mom spotted the hump on my back as I was stretching in my room one night. My mom took me to several spine surgeons to be x-rayed. The x-rays showed that I had severe double-curve scoliosis. My spinal curves were severe enough where 4 out of the 5 spine surgeons that my mom and I went to see recommended immediate spinal fusion surgery. We were told that the risk of waiting even a few months could mean that my spine would continue to curve putting me at great health risks. My parents were not going to schedule surgery right away. They wanted to try the non--traditional method of physical therapy and wearing of a brace, called a Milwaukee brace that went from my neck to my hips. Dr. Asher was the only spine surgeon who was supportive of me trying to go the non-surgical route. I wore the brace to school and to sleep in. The only time I took it off was to exercise. With a dad who was a strength coach for the University of Kansas and a mom who taught gymnastics, I had my own team of physical therapists. “My mom and dad made me do lat pull downs, back extensions, and crunches with the medicine ball every night. My dad even hung 3 chin up bars in the stair wells throughout our home.” From age 12 to 18 I continued ballet, gymnastics, and started swimming on my high school swim team. While I stayed strong and fit, my curves increased. By age 19 in 1999; my thoracic curve as 70 degrees and my lumbar was nearing 80 degrees. The pain had gone from a dull ache to a sometimes stabbing pain that only went away after a hard weight workout or swim workout. “I quit my retail job that I had in college because standing more than 4 hours/day.” At the end of 2000, I went for my yearly check up with Dr. Asher. I knew my pain was worse, but I was sickened to learn that my curvature had increased to the point that I had shrunk in height from 5’1” to 4’11”. I drove home from the appointment with the thought that I should stop trying to prolong the inevitable. Plus, my bones were hardening with age; so Dr. Asher advised me to schedule the surgery now if I was going to do it. The hardest part about my dilemma was that my parents were both really nervous about me doing it. They saw how active I was, and they thought that I would not be able to continue to workout every day and enjoy all my outdoor activities. Plus, there was a risk of paralysis and chronic pain. In March 2001 while standing in line to KU to enroll for my senior classes, I impulsively called Dr. Marc Asher at KU Med and scheduled a surgery for May 14, 2001. The next eight weeks were gut-wrenching. I was struggling with giving up my spinal flexibility. I was scared that I would not be able to look natural and bend. Neither of my parents wanted me to get the surgery. This scared me to death that I was doing it without their agreement, but I knew I had to make a change. The eight weeks leading up to my surgery I tried to gain as much muscle as possible as well as keeping my heart and lungs really strong through long cardio sessions. Running up and down the bleachers in Memorial Stadium was a huge accomplishment for me that turned into a fun afternoon workout. With the incredible support of friends and family and an amazing team of doctors and nurses at KU Med, I survived the 21 hour instrumentation and fusion of her spine. I gained 3 inches of height from her surgery, going from 4’11” to 5’2”. I didn’t have height to spare! The recovery was long and hard, but was about fifty percent quicker than Dr. Asher estimated. After the 21 hour surgery my parents were overwhelmed with the incredible amount of pain I was in. Apparently I kept begging for more pain medication. I do not remember this because of the high dosages of morphine that I was on. I was in the ICU for 6 days and 6 more days on the regular floor. I went from 123 lbs to 97 lbs in 3 weeks from my body being under so much stress trying to recoup and heal itself. I also ate nothing for 6 days. I finally got to go home from the hospital after passing my therapeutic evaluation. I had to get out of bed by myself, walk 100 feet down the hall and up and down 6 stairs. I went home but was too weak and sore to even pour my own milk in my cereal. Dr. Asher instructed me that I was not to lift more than 10 lbs for 1 year while my spine fused. I also could not take any kind of anti-inflammatory medication because that would prevent my bones from fusing. I stayed at home for 5 more weeks before I forced myself to get in my car and drive to my gym, Prairie Life Center. Being so sedentary was causing me to feel anxious and completely out of sorts on top of the pain, soreness, and discomfort. Basically, I felt horrendous. I will never forget my first “workout.” It took me five minutes to get out of the car as I fought back tears. Since my spine was fused and I was so stiff, I could not bend or lean over as I got up out of the car. I finally made it inside the gym. Gingerly, I got on the treadmill and walked for 15 minutes on level 2.7. Then I got on the stationary bike, rode it slowly for 10 minuets and then went home completely exhausted. I went back to the gym every single day for the next 10 weeks. I built up my strength and stamina until I was back to doing 30 minutes on the Stairmaster, and lifting light weights, 5 lbs and under and never doing any weight lifting that put pressure on my healing spine. It took over a year for my spine to fuse and for me to feel back to myself. I was not able to do pull ups for dips for almost 2 years after the surgery. Now it has been 4 years, and I am in great health and have competed in 3 figure competitions within the last year. The first competition was the 2004 Kansas City Golds Classic in the NANBF. I placed 2nd, and went on to compete in Denver and Iowa. There are still risks associated with my spine. I am not supposed to run as a hobby. I love to run and compete several times a year in 10K and 12K runs. I would love to do a marathon, but that would be very foolish. Since my spine is fused, I have no discs in between my vertebrae to be shock absorbers for my back. All of the pressure of my weight and running is placed on my bottom to lumbar vertebrae as well as my cervical vertebrae. There is a 20% chance that sometime in my life I will have to do a re- surgery. Also, eventually my body could reject the one pound of titanium I have in my spine, and I would have to get them removed. I am continuing to lift weights and stay a healthy weight so that these risks are reduced. I am blessed with health by God, blessed with wonderful family and friends and a talented doctor that altogether brought me through this.