Doctors Wore Lead Lined Coats and Put My Bones in a Coffee Grinder. but at Last I Can Stand Up Straight; GoodHealth ME AND MY OPERATION POSTERIOR SCOLIOSIS CORRECTION

Daily Mail (London), September 6, 2005 | Go to article overview
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Doctors Wore Lead Lined Coats and Put My Bones in a Coffee Grinder. but at Last I Can Stand Up Straight; GoodHealth ME AND MY OPERATION POSTERIOR SCOLIOSIS CORRECTION


Byline: ISLA WHITCROFT

KAREN FRANKLIN, 33, is a media relations manager for British Airways.

She is married to Iain Burns, head of BA corporate communications, and they live in Farnham, Surrey.

Here, she tells ISLA WHITCROFT about the operation she had to straighten her spine and her surgeon explains the procedure.

THE PATIENT

WHEN I was 13, an aunt noticed that I was dragging my right leg, but my GP said it was simply to do with growing up.

Then, at 18, a routine medical picked up a spinal twist and a doctor sat me down and explained that I had something called scoliosis.

He told me that this twisting or curving of the spine generally happens during puberty and no one was really sure why or how. In the majority of cases the curve did not get any worse.

I was referred to a surgeon who X-rayed me and confirmed that I had scoliosis. My spine was twisted 30 degrees to the right in the chest area, with smaller curves in my neck and lower back. The doctor felt that it may not get any worse so the treatment was simply to be monitored to ensure that the curve was not increasing.

Throughout my 20s, I was very sporty and fit, but if I had been honest I would have admitted that my hips were becoming uneven and my waist was becoming crushed up on my right side. In summer 2003, I was in my gym kit when my boyfriend Iain suddenly said that he could see my right shoulder blade protruding as my entire upper torso began to rotate around to the right, following my twisted spine.

My heart missed a beat but I still somehow put it out of my mind. Shortly afterwards, colleagues started to ask me if I had a limp and when I wore tight-fitting clothes friends said they noticed a lump in my shoulder blade.

I began to get self-conscious and finally, after months of badgering from Iain and my family, I went to see my GP in March 2004.

He referred me immediately to Mr David Harrison at The Royal National Orthopaedic Hospital in Stanmore, north-west London. I saw Mr Harrison in April 2004 and went for X-rays. When I saw the result on the light box, I was speechless. It didn't look like a spine - it looked like an S-shaped snake, and it was now curved at 37 degrees.

THE possibility of an operation was mentioned, but at that point Mr Harrison was more concerned with monitoring the curve's progression. Six months later my spine had curved another three degrees.

It was a great shock. Mr Harrison then sat me down and explained that I needed an operation to straighten my spine.

Basically, he would cut me open from my neck down to the lower part of my back, try to move the spine back into position and then secure it with two rods on either side. The vertebrae would be fused to prevent it curving again and I would be left with a rigid, but straight, upper back. That's if all went well.

On the other hand, the operation ranks alongside open heart surgery for patient risk and - because it involves proximity to the spinal cord - one in 500 operations results in death or paralysis.

Iain and I went home to consider the options, but deep down I knew I didn't have a choice.

My operation was on June 4. I was extremely nervous and at the back of my mind was the thought that I might wake up paralysed - or not wake up at all.

But after a four-hour operation, I woke up in the recovery room and the first voice I heard was Mr Harrison saying that he had managed to get a near-perfect correction. I was on cloud nine.

I was in high dependency for 24 hours and had a line into my neck for antibiotics, a catheter, a couple of drips in my left hand and an oxygen tube up my nose.

Two days later I was fitted with a back brace - a stiff plastic shell which protects the spine while it heals - and then I was allowed up.

The physiotherapist was there to help me and although my back felt very stiff and I was bit shaky, I was ecstatic to be walking again.

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