“I think you have scoliosis,” were the words Makenna DeLucia heard from Catasauqua. First from a friend doing a track training who noticed the bumps in her shoulders while running. She later heard the same words from her family doctor.
“I didn’t even know what scoliosis was then because I hadn’t even heard of it,” says Makenna. Scoliosis is an abnormal curvature of the spine that causes it to look like an “S” or “C” shape, a condition that affects 2 to 3 percent of children in the United States.
An unexpected diagnosis
During one of Makenna’s regular health checkups at LVPG Pediatrics-Laurys Station, her pediatrician noticed bumps in her back and shoulders. When Makenna saw the worried expression on her doctor’s face, she realized something was wrong. At this appointment in March 2019, she was diagnosed with scoliosis and was referred to an orthopedic surgeon.
“It was such a shock to me that I had it,” says Makenna. “I was worried and confused.” She was then 15 years old and had recently experienced a growth spurt that explained the sudden onset of scoliosis.
X-rays were taken a month later, showing that Makenna’s spine was shaped like a “C” with a 75-degree curve and a torso twist. “When I saw my first X-ray, I thought – this is not my back. I don’t look like that, ”says Makenna.
Given the severity of her condition, Jeffrey McConnell, MD, orthopedist and spinal surgeon at LVPG Orthopedics and Sports Medicine, recommended operation to correct the curve. “My job is to give you the best possible information about what scoliosis is, what it means in the short and long term, through adolescence and adulthood, and how it could affect your later life,” says McConnell.
Makenna and her family made the decision to proceed with the operation. They felt that in the long run it would benefit her to have this done while she is young and active rather than waiting for her to get older. “I was really happy because I was ready to fix it. I was convinced that this was the best option, ”says Makenna.
However, one thing worried her – what it would look like as an athlete after the operation. Makenna was passionate about field hockey and athletics. It was difficult to imagine how she would walk again after such a major operation. McConnell assured her, however, that after her recovery and healing, she could return to normal activities.
The best care team
On November 14, 2019, Makenna had a posterior merger from McConnell at Lehigh Valley Hospital-Cedar Crest. It was a six hour procedure.
“I remember saying how grateful I was after the operation. I loved all of my nurses and Dr. McConnell. Even my dad said I would cry because I was so happy and thankful for everything, ”says Makenna.
Little by little, Makenna made progress on her journey to a full recovery. She walked for the first time the day after the operation. On the third night in the hospital, she paced the stairs.
The hardest part of the first month of recovery was the muscle and shoulder pain she felt. But she rested, took time to heal, and was then able to go to school regularly. Each subsequent post-op appointment was a reminder that she was one step closer to returning to field hockey.
Back in the field
After about eight months, Makenna began attending field hockey training again to prepare for the coming season. “My motivation was to get up and be myself again and regain my confidence. Because when you bend down, you really don’t have that much confidence in yourself, ”says Makenna. She was happy to be doing what she loves again.
Her posture is better, the curvature has been corrected and now that her spine is straightened, she is even bigger – so her confidence has returned.
After a challenging season in field hockey, physical therapy became part of Makenna’s routine to relieve her pain. “On the advice of the doctor, Makenna decided to do physiotherapy alone here at home for a few months after the season. It helped her tremendously when she decided to make herself a daily ritual. Otherwise, it continued to work out well and is doing great, ”says her father Michael DeLucia.
For more information on scoliosis treatment in LVHN and Coordinated Health, visit LVHN.org/conditions/skoliosis.