Scoliosis: Kate & Emma's Story

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When Kate Fair was in fifth grade, she fell off a horse and suffered a compression fracture injury. Her family was living in North Carolina and the doctor treating Kate’s back injury incidentally diagnosed a mild scoliosis. When genetic testing ruled out the likelihood of the curve progressing, the family breathed a sigh of relief.

Kate and Emma Kate (left), Emma (right) Flash-forward three years. The Fair family was now living in Pennsylvania. Kate’s parents, Rachel and Brett, noticed that something was very wrong with Kate’s spine. A family friend recommended Dr. John Flynn, Chief of the Division of Orthopaedics at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia (CHOP). Dr. Flynn sees patients both at CHOP’s Main Campus in Philadelphia, and once a week at the CHOP Specialty Care & Surgery Center in King of Prussia, PA, which is less than 20 minutes from the Fair’s home.

In August 2015, Rachel Fair brought both of her daughters, Kate and her younger sister Emma, to see Dr. Flynn in King of Prussia. It was an in-depth evaluation of both girls that included X-rays, a physical exam and medical histories. The family received a diagnosis for Kate of a rapidly progressing form of scoliosis, and for Emma, a borderline case.

"It was a complete shock to find out that Kate had such advanced scoliosis and needed surgery imminently and that Emma was not far behind,” says Rachel. “What we were facing was daunting to us. We had been enjoying our summer, looking forward to the next school year, and this came out of the blue. Now our school year looked completely different.”

The curvature of Kate’s spine had progressed well into a range that required surgery, while Emma’s could still be fitted and treated with a brace, which usually can prevent curves from progressing into a surgical range. The girls met with Dr. Flynn at the CHOP King of Prussia, Specialty Care & Surgery Center for their check-ups as they began treatment.

Navigating two unique scoliosis treatments

Recovering from scoliosis surgery can take as long as three to six months. Families often schedule it around seasonal sports, holidays or school breaks, to avoid interrupting their child’s interests, academic year and activities. For the Fair family, that meant scheduling Kate's surgery in late February 2016, around a big school musical production she did not want to miss.

While Emma was adjusting to life with a brace, Kate was getting ready for surgery. Her pre-op appointment and surgery took place at CHOP’s Main Campus in Philadelphia. The Fair family was familiar with traveling to the city and had planned early morning departures on the days Kate spent at the Main Campus. As Rachel explains, not all families are familiar with getting in and out of the city. The added stress can take a toll.

“It’s a big deal for people coming from different parts of the state or area,” explains Rachel.

With the recent announcement of CHOP’s new hospital in King of Prussia, Rachel reflects on what the future facility might mean to families.

“There are more main arteries that meet up in King of Prussia. It would have been huge to have our pre-op and surgery there and not have the anxiety of getting into the city. I’m so happy for the patients who will be able to utilize the King of Prussia hospital. It will benefit their families even more,” explains Rachel.

For the Fair family, having the Specialty Care and Surgery Center in King of Prussia available to them for the girls’ checkups alleviated the stress travel can add to an already stressful situation. “It’s incredibly convenient to be able to get to an appointment and back to school or work,” says Rachel.

Scoliosis surgery and recovery

Kate’s surgery took place on a Monday morning. With CHOP’s Rapid Recovery Protocol, which standardizes pain relief, therapy and activity post-surgery, Kate was standing at the edge of her bed on the first night and walking the next day.

She was discharged by Thursday of that same week. And while her first week was tough, CHOP’s multi-modal approach to pain relief alleviated her discomfort while also ensuring she didn’t become reliant on any particular medication. She was gradually weaned off all pain medication within a few weeks.

Emma was a witness to her sister’s surgery and recovery. That knowledge helped make her own journey into surgery one year later, less of an unknown when her scoliosis continued to advance despite the brace. Emma’s curvature was not as severe as Kate’s at the time of surgery, and coupled with her younger age (12) she was able to recover faster.

“I don’t want to minimize the scope and depth of these surgeries for other patients who may have faced or be facing similar circumstances,” explains Rachel. “Just because Emma wasn’t overly scared about the procedure doesn’t mean that both of the girls didn’t have fears or anxiety about the surgery; they did. As parents, my husband Brett and I had to deal with fear, dread and anxiety as well. But we overcame it and got through it well, and so can others.

Fondness, fellowship and bright futures

The Fair family’s experience at CHOP touched their lives in unexpected ways, and even influenced the future of one member of the family: Emma is considering a career in nursing.

As Rachel explains, the personal care her daughters received at CHOP made a lasting impression. From check-ins at the desk, to nurses, X-ray technicians and their surgeon — everyone shared a genuine interest in the girls and their story.

“We really liked Dr. Flynn and our nurse practitioner, Theresa McIntosh. They were interested in the girls personally, getting to know them and getting to know their interests. They opened up a line of communication and established a relationship with both of my girls and referenced their interests each time they came in — we really liked that. We had a great personal rapport with the nurse practitioners. It made things more comfortable,” explains Rachel.

The Fair girls are now thriving and have become a source of support for other girls facing scoliosis surgery. They are not held back from any physical activities. Kate is interested in the sciences: engineering and chemistry. They will continue to receive checkups at CHOP King of Prussia, Specialty Care & Surgery Center for the next few years.