the Author: Sharon
Dunn was a former news anchor with CBC Halifax
and a celebrity columnist and interviewers
with the National Post. She is currently
a writer living in Toronto, Ontario and has
two sons. Her story, 'Amazing Brace’about
her son's scoliosis in Maclean's, January
2008, was a finalist in the Health and Science
category for the 2008 National Magazine Awards.
Her story, written from a parent’s
perspective, struck a chord with many anxious
and confused parents who are themselves agonised
by their children’s scoliosis.
aren't Canadian parents told about a Montreal
invention used around the world to treat
SHARON DUNN | January 23, 2008 |
"Welcome to a lifetime of pain" was the dramatic greeting I got six
years ago when I typed just one word into my search engine. Last spring, as I
sat in a hotel room after a dinner my 22-year-old son Jay could hardly sit through
because of pain, I realized just how accurate those words had been.
It all started innocently enough in 2001 when Jay, then 16, complained
of a sore back. His back looked fine to me, but I took him to the
pediatrician just to be sure. "Your son has scoliosis, and
now it's too late," the doctor told me, going on to explain
that scoliosis, a sideways curvature of the spine, if caught while
a child is still growing, can be treated with a brace to reduce
the curve, or a surgically implanted rod to straighten the spine.
We were referred to the Hospital For Sick Children in Toronto,
where Jay was diagnosed with adolescent idiopathic (of no known
cause) scoliosis, or AIS, the most common type of curvature of
the spine. "If you ask me three times, I'll do surgery," the
doctor then said to my son.
Confused, I asked him what he meant. "I wasn't talking to
you," the surgeon scolded. Intimidated, not a common trait
of mine, I backed down. Even though my son was still a minor, I
apparently had no say in the matter. When we left the hospital,
my teenager said casually, "Well, I guess I'll have fusion." The
surgeon had succeeded in making spinal fusion sound like a trip
to the park.
I soon found out that nothing could be further from the truth.
Spinal fusion, introduced in 1911, is still one of the most dangerous
surgeries performed today. Complications are surprisingly common
and can include fusion failure, infections, numbness, and, more
rarely, paralysis — even, as with any major surgery, death. "Successful" surgeries
have their own issues, mainly chronic pain, and eventually more
operations. Medical professionals may call it the gold standard
in scoliosis surgery, but except in cases where it is absolutely
necessary (serious spinal curves can lead to heart and lung problems),
I couldn't find anything golden about spinal fusion.