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Olivia’s prom day milestone after wearing scoliosis back brace for three years

Olivia on her prom day
21 September 2022

Olivia on her prom dayThe day that 16-year-old Olivia had been determined to have a straight spine for finally arrived – her secondary school prom!

Olivia, a competitive figure skater, dancer and gymnast, was diagnosed with scoliosis at age 13 after a dressmaker and retired theatre nurse spotted a curve in her spine at a dress fitting.

Scoliosis, a condition where the spine curves to the side and twists, can appear in several ways – a visibly curved spine to one shoulder, a hip sticking out, uneven shoulders or the ribs sticking out on one side.

Olivia had been struggling to find a figure skating dress that would fit properly when mum Nicola took her to have a custom dress made as a Christmas present.

Nicola recalls: “The dressmaker, Fiona, a retired nurse, noticed Olivia’s spine curved to the side and said she might have scoliosis, which is why we hadn’t been able to find a dress that fit. She advised us to go to our GP, who referred Olivia to the team at Sheffield Children’s Hospital. We are eternally grateful to Fiona for spotting the early signs of scoliosis.”

At Sheffield Children’s, Olivia was diagnosed with adolescent idiopathic scoliosis and prescribed a back brace, which she wore for 22 to 23 hours a day for three years. Early diagnosis is important in the diagnosis and treatment of this kind of scoliosis.

For people with scoliosis, if their spinal curve becomes too large its appearance can cause problems with body image and self-esteem, and may lead to back pain and problems with the heart and lungs in adulthood.

Sheffield Children’s is the leading UK centre for conservative scoliosis treatment, using some of the most advanced braces available. The Spinal Service team includes Spinal Surgeons, Orthotists, Physiotherapists, Nurses and Orthopaedic Technicians, and they’re well prepared to look after people just like Olivia!

Wearing a back brace holds the spine in position to stop the curve from worsening and reduces the need for surgery. There are several types of braces used to treat scoliosis – the one Olivia wore is known as a ‘full-time brace’ and is the most common type.

Olivia followed the advice of her Consultant Spinal Surgeon, Mr Lee Breakwell, and Orthotists Andrew and Matthew. She made sure she stayed as active as possible while wearing her brace!

Regular dance and gymnastic classes and ice-skating training not only helped Olivia physically but helped her to remain mentally positive too.

Olivia competed in both local and national figure skating events achieving podium places and even gaining national ranking in the top five skaters in the country at her level.Olivia competed in both local and national figure skating events achieving podium places

Nicola talked about Olivia sharing her experience with other patients: “Soon after Olivia’s diagnosis, she became very aware of how difficult it can be for teenagers to wear the brace for such a long time, how frustrating it can be to choose clothes and how it can make you feel self-conscious. Olivia met many other teenagers in clinic and closer to home. She shared her motivation and positive mindset and listened to their thoughts, offering reassurance. She became a scoliosis advocate for Sheffield Children’s, volunteering her support to other young people with the same condition for almost three years.”

During the COVID-19 pandemic, Olivia remained in touch with fellow patients and befriended them, chatting on video calls and doing stretch and exercise classes.

Olivia was also approached by Orthotist Andrew to contribute towards an online presentation for scoliosis patients around the country.

Nicola said: “Our main focus was to try and avoid Olivia needing invasive surgery so she could continue as a figure skater, limit time away from school but most importantly to have the best possible outcome long term. Olivia was really disciplined and committed to wearing the brace. As a family we are incredibly proud of her! She was motivated by having this vision in the future – wearing her prom dress.”

Olivia stayed active while wearing the brace, and even continuing to do stamina and fitness classes with her skating coaches virtually during the COVID-19 pandemic.

After three years, in May 2022, Olivia was able to stop wearing the brace – just in time for her prom day.

Mr Lee Breakwell, Consultant Spinal Surgeon at Sheffield Children’s, said: “Olivia’s commitment and outcome of wearing the brace was excellent. As a result, she now has near perfect posture and an extremely low risk of her spinal curve progressing as an adult.”

X-rays of Olivia's spine before and after wearing the brace for three years

X-rays of Olivia’s spine before and after wearing the brace for three years

Nicola said: “Prom was an incredibly emotional day. When Olivia tried the prom dress on in the shop, her spine looked perfectly straight. Olivia had achieved what she wanted to achieve, and as her Mum, it was brilliant to see. It’s been a tough few years, but Olivia has had that inner strength and she has been given the superb care to achieve the best outcome.

“The team at Sheffield Children’s have been absolutely incredible. They are 100% committed to making the best outcome for patients. Mr Breakwell is wonderful and has a great demeanour with young people. Orthotists Andrew and Matthew had such a thorough approach, and they made Olivia feel like she could be herself by joking around with her and listening to her. This has all been part and parcel of keeping her motivated – having such motivated staff who are solution-focused.”

Mr Breakwell added: “Early diagnosis for scoliosis is key – contact your child’s GP if you spot any sign of uneven shoulders, abnormal waist symmetry or prominent ribs. The best early test for scoliosis is the forward bend, where a child leans forward, aiming to touch their toes. If the spine twists rather than curving forwards, they may have scoliosis.”

Olivia began her A-levels this September and later plans to go on to university. She hopes to work as a clinician in the medical profession in the future.

Thank you, Olivia, for sharing your story and for being an advocate for other young people with scoliosis!

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