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Amazing Brace
Part 1 of 6
About 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.
Amazing Brace  


Why aren't Canadian parents told about a Montreal invention used around the world to treat scoliosis?

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.

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