When Kellyann was 14, she had an intense growth spurt, growing four inches taller. As a result, her scoliosis progressed suddenly to a 65-degree curve in her spine. Surgery at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia during the COVID-19 pandemic successfully and permanently straightened her spine, leaving her standing taller than ever … literally!
At age 14, Kellyann experienced an intense growth spurt. In a matter of just a few months, she grew four inches taller. It benefitted her basketball game and her swimming times, but wasn’t so great for her developing spine. She went from having a mild case of scoliosis with a barely noticeable curve in her back to a 65-degree curve. Instead of being a straight line, Kellyann’s spine looked more like the letter “S.”
Nonsurgical approaches to straightening the spine like bracing are effective for many children with scoliosis, but Kellyann’s curve was so severe that it couldn’t be corrected with a back brace. When scoliosis exceeds 50 degrees, surgery is the recommended treatment for pediatric spinal deformity.
A friend of Kellyann’s who also has scoliosis recommended Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia’s Spine Program. Kellyann and her parents met with Jason B. Anari, MD, a pediatric orthopaedic surgeon at CHOP who specializes in the treatment of spine disorders in children, at the CHOP Princeton office near their home in northern New Jersey. After evaluating Kellyann’s spine, Dr. Anari suggested she undergo spinal fusion.
Safety precautions during spine surgery
Spinal fusion is a major surgery that includes realigning the spine using rods, screws and bone grafts. After the surgery, children are hospitalized for a few days, can be back to school between three to six weeks, and often have a full recovery between 3 to 6 months.
Spring break in April 2020 seemed like the best time to have the surgery, as it would minimize the amount of school Kellyann would have to miss and allow her to recover in time to go to her senior prom and high school graduation. Then, a month before the surgery date, the COVID-19 pandemic forced CHOP to halt all non-emergency procedures.
Having a child undergo spine surgery is already a stressful experience. Having it take place in the midst of a global pandemic sent Kellyann’s mother’s stress level understandably through the roof. When Kellyann’s surgery was postponed, she and her parents were relieved to avoid COVID-19 exposure, but also frustrated to have to delay the surgery and recovery. They were confident in Dr. Anari and the CHOP spine team, and knew that they would make the best decision with Kellyann’s best health interest the priority.
“We were nervous about going into the hospital, but we knew we were in good hands,” says Kellyann’s mother, Joanne. “We had a lot of faith in Dr. Anari and the CHOP team and knew they wouldn’t do the surgery and put her at risk if it wasn’t OK. They were just amazing about everything. They were extremely caring toward Kellyann and her thoughts about the surgery.”
When CHOP resumed elective surgeries in May 2020, Kellyann was one of the first patients. In addition to the added safety precautions to prevent the spread of COVID-19, the Spine Program team follows rigorous measures to ensure safety before, during and after spine surgery. During the procedure, Dr. Anari straightened Kellyann’s spine and implanted two rods and 21 screws in her back to ensure her back stays straight.
Standing straighter and taller after spine surgery
The surgery brought the curve in Kellyann’s spine from 65-degree curve at the top and 83-degree curve on the bottom to 25-degree curve on the top and 30-degree curve on the bottom. The change was visible almost immediately. The day after surgery, a skin fold on the right side of her back was already straightening out, and, within three days, the fold was nearly gone.
“We were so amazed at how much Dr. Anari was able to straighten her back,” says Joanne. “It was all worth it.”
Kellyann was discharged after a few days in the hospital, and she has progressed well through recovery. She was even able to go to her senior prom and her high school graduation, which her school rescheduled to physically distanced events in July 2020.
With a straight spine, Kellyann, now 18, not only stands up straighter, but she is also two inches taller. She continues to take her recovery one day at a time and is thrilled to be getting back into her exercise routine at the gym. She is currently attending college remotely, with a focus on health science.
The family extends their sincere thanks and appreciation to the staff at CHOP.
“We had some of the best and most caring people take care of us there,” says Joanne.