A Thankful Scoliosis Patient: Sara’s Story

The following letter was recently sent in by Sara Carlson, a scoliosis patient of David Skaggs, MD, Chief, Children’s Orthopaedic Center and Director, Scoliosis and Spinal Deformity Program.

Dear Dr. Skaggs and your wonderful team at Children’s Hospital Los Angeles,

I am writing to thank you and your team,  for taking such good care of me both in and out of the hospital.  I also greatly appreciate your friendly and kind bed side manner throughout my entire experience.

Sara’s strong back after her
spinal surgery.
Sara doing yoga after her
spinal surgery.

I was diagnosed with idiopathic scoliosis by my pediatrician when I was in the 5th grade. I had two curves: one in the thoracic and one in the lumbar areas of my spine. I was determined to do what I needed to find a non-surgical solution to my curvy spine problem. I began attending group yoga classes and wearing an orthotic brace to arrest the growth of the curves. I wore the orthotic brace from the 5th grade through part of my 9th grade year. I was very compliant, I wore the brace all of the time except when exercising or showering.

I wanted to improve my core strength and keep my spine as flexible as possible and was concerned that the brace prohibited both. I progressed from group yoga classes to individual yoga and Pilates classes with my teacher, Emilee Garfield. Emilee specializes in yoga for scoliosis and therapeutic Pilates she tailored the exercises very specifically for my alignment helping me to stretch my muscles safely, improve my core strength, flexibility and even made breathing easier for me while never hurting my back. Pilates helped me feel strong from the inside out! I believe this helped me recover faster from the surgery.

One of the things I really appreciated is you did not push surgery.  You waited until you thought it was necessary. I felt as if you treated me as you would your own daughter. You were very respectful of my non-surgical efforts to help my spine as well as my fears about spinal surgery.

I cannot praise your team enough especially, Alison Lehman. She was professional, easy to talk to, kind, compassionate and answered every question I had.  She helped me understand the entire process. She also responded almost instantly through text and email after surgery when I had questions. I truly feel I had the best medical care and team in the world.

Attending the evening education class about the spinal fusion surgery and what to expect when in the hospital is an absolute must! It was so well done. Not only did I learn about the “party ball,” I met some of the nurses and a physical therapist who would help me in the hospital. The day of surgery I knew what to expect; there were no surprises and that helped me mentally prepare for the experience.

This was my first surgical/hospital experience and I was scared and dreading it so much. Now when I reflect on the hospital stay and surgery, I do not cringe; it was not traumatic for me; it was much better and easier than I ever imaged. The nurses in the hospital were phenomenal; they took very good care of me and helped me to get up and begin the mending process. I was walking the first day and taking the stairs on day three. When I returned home, I took it easy but was able to walk every day.

I am so grateful to you for straightening my spine and even more importantly I no longer have back pain. I was having some discomfort before the surgery and that is now gone due to the combination of spinal fusion and yoga/Pilates.

I was so very relieved when you told me I could go back to most of the activities I enjoy a month after surgery and all activities by three months. Six weeks after surgery I was back in the Pilates studio.  I felt well enough and I love it. I was so afraid that my spine would be inflexible after the spinal fusion. I was anxious to see how much I would have to modify the exercises I enjoy. Emilee helped me get back to almost all of the exercises I was doing before the surgery. I just have to be careful of flexion and extension of my spine but otherwise I can do it all!  My surgery was in May and I have been snowboarding and skiing since early December. I am back to doing everything I enjoy. Thank you again for your expert surgical skills, warm demeanor and facilitating a team that works so well together. You all do a fantastic job caring for your patients.


Sara Carlson