“I think you have scoliosis,” were the words Makenna DeLucia of Catasauqua remembers hearing. First, from a friend at track practice who noticed the unevenness in her shoulders as she ran. Later, she heard those same words from her primary care doctor.
“I didn’t even know what scoliosis was at the time because I hadn’t even heard of it,” Makenna says. Scoliosis is an abnormal curve 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 wellness check-ups, at LVPG Pediatrics–Laurys Station, her pediatrician noticed unevenness in her back and shoulders. When Makenna saw the look of concern on her doctor’s face, she realized something was wrong. That appointment in March 2019 was when she was diagnosed with scoliosis and referred to an orthopedic specialist.
“It was such a shock to me that I had it,” Makenna says. “I was concerned and confused.” At that time, she was 15 years old and had recently gone through a growth spurt which explained the sudden onset of scoliosis.
A month later, X-rays were taken revealing that Makenna’s spine was shaped like a “C” with a 75-degree curve and ribcage rotation. “When I saw my first X-ray, I thought – that’s not my back. That is not what I look like,” Makenna says.
Given the severity of her condition, Jeffrey McConnell, MD, orthopedic and spine surgeon with LVPG Orthopedics and Sports Medicine, recommended surgery to correct the curve. “My job is to give you the best information I can, what scoliosis is, what it means short and long-term, during adolescence and during adulthood and how it might affect you in later life,” McConnell says.
Makenna and her family made the decision to move forward with surgery. They felt it would benefit her in the long-run to have it done while she is young and active rather than waiting until she got older. “I was really happy because I was ready to get it fixed. I was feeling confident that this was the best option,” Makenna says.
But she was worried about one thing – what things would look like for her as an athlete post-operation. Makenna was passionate about field hockey and track. Picturing herself running again after a major surgery like this was difficult. However, McConnell assured her that once she recovered and healed up, she could return to her normal activities.
The best care team
On November 14, 2019, Makenna had a posterior fusion done by McConnell at Lehigh Valley Hospital–Cedar Crest. It was a six-hour procedure.
“I remember when I was coming out of surgery that I kept saying how thankful I was. I loved all my nurses and Dr. McConnell. Even my dad said I was crying because I was so happy and grateful for everything,” Makenna says.
Little by little, Makenna made progress on her journey to a full recovery. She walked for the first time again the day after her surgery. On the third night at the hospital, she walked up and down the stairs.
The hardest part about the first month of recovery was the muscle and shoulder pain she experienced. But she rested, took time to heal and then was able to attend school regularly. Each post-op appointment that followed was a reminder that she was one step closer to returning to field hockey.
Getting back on the field
Around the eight-month mark, Makenna started attending field hockey practices again to prepare for the upcoming season. “My motivation was getting back up and being myself again and regaining my confidence. Because when you’re slouched down, you really don’t have that much confidence in yourself,” Makenna says. She was happy to be back doing what she loves.
Her posture is better, the curve has been corrected and she’s even a bit taller now that her spine has been straightened – so her confidence is back to stay.
After a challenging season of field hockey, physical therapy became part of Makenna’s routine to alleviate the pain she was experiencing. “With the doctor’s advice, Makenna decided to do some physical therapy on her own right here at home for a few months following the season. It helped her tremendously when she decided to make stretching her back a daily ritual. Otherwise, things have continued to work well, and she is doing great,” her father, Michael DeLucia, says.
For more information on scoliosis treatment at LVHN and Coordinated Health, visit LVHN.org/conditions/scoliosis.