As John Lennon once poignantly
noted, “Life is what happens when you’re busy making
My family discovered this truism
when, about five months ago, our daughter Nina was diagnosed with
severe scoliosis of the spine. Nina, 13, is in seventh grade in
Rye Middle School.
Scoliosis is an abnormal curvature
of the spine. But scoliosis is not an exaggeration of the spine’s
ordinary, slight curves. Rather, it is a lateral, sideways curve.
When viewed from the rear on an X-ray, the spinal column appears
not as a straight line, as it normally should, but as a curved
line. Many kids have scoliosis, but it is usually not noticeable
and doesn’t require any treatment.
Normal scoliosis, if there is such
a thing, is a single curve of the spine. In Nina’s case,
she has two curves. When her spine is viewed from the rear on
an x-ray slide, Nina’s spine resembles a backwards “S”.
Those two curves that life threw
at Nina would ultimately cause her to climb up quite a mountain
of hardship, and it wasn’t easy for her. But then, as most
parents know, just being a 13-year-old girl isn’t easy,
Nina’s journey began October
9 of last year. My wife and I sat in a windowless medical office
in White Plains, nervously watching an orthopedic surgeon measure
Nina’s spine on an X-ray slide with a protractor. Like every
other parent who sleepwalks through life, taking his kid’s
health for granted, we were slapped awake by the doctor who was
telling us that Nina would need an operation — spinal surgery.
The following weeks were a blur
of trips to New York City for meetings with other specialists,
and extensive research done online. The research opened up a scary
world of back braces and nearly indecipherable medical terminology.
The research also led to the traditional
surgical operation for scoliosis that would entail screwing metal
rods into Nina’s spine and “harvesting” bone
from a rib, or hip, to implant between Nina’s vertebrae.
This became known as the “fusion operation”.
After much research and agonized
discussion, my wife and I decided, (with Nina’s agreement,
of course), that Nina would undergo a new, nearly experimental,
procedure known as “vertebral stapling”. It consists
of the stapling together of the vertebrae to form a sort of internal
The good news was that this procedure
is much less invasive than the fusion operation. No bone needs
to be harvested, the recuperation time is two weeks rather than
three to five weeks, and there is no loss of mobility.
However, the bad news was that
the procedure was only being performed at Shriners Hospital in
Philadelphia. And it consisted of a seven-hour operation, followed
by a week in the hospital, and two weeks recovery at home.
Nina courageously began to mentally
prepare herself for the operation. She never showed any fear or
apprehension. Instead, she wondered loudly whether she might be
able to replace her old cell phone with a new one after all the
dust had settled.
On the day of her operation, we
arrived at Shriners Hospital before 7 a.m. After about an hour
of pre-op preparation, a nurse and the anesthesiologist came to
wheel Nina into the operating room. It was like a scene from a
movie, but not a movie in which anyone would ever want to play
a role. My wife and I kissed Nina on the forehead, told her we
loved her, and said we'd see her in a little while. The sense
of fear (or was it pure terror) was overwhelming.
During the operation, in order
to insert six staples into numerous vertebrae in the middle, thoracic
section of Nina's spine, the surgeon deflated Nina's right lung.
To insert the staples from the anterior, or front of her body,
they also had to “move her internal organs around”.
Then they inserted four more staples into the lumbar section of
At 3:30 p.m., the head surgeon
came into the little waiting room and announced that Nina “had
done well”. Nina and I spent an uneventful night in ICU,
and she was discharged from the hospital four days later.
After we drove back to Rye, we
all breathed a huge sigh of relief. But then, just a day later,
in a stroke of bad luck, the ordeal continued in full force when
Nina contracted a stomach virus. After several bad nights, the
virus thankfully ended its reign of misery, and Nina began to
quickly recover from the operation.
Nina’s calendar now shows
events at school, and just last week we went and bought that new
after this article appeared, Nina was again hospitalized with
pneumonia in her right lung and, more importantly, a blood infection
caused by bacteria known as MRSA (Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus
aureus). MRSA is an extremely dangerous type of bacteria that
is resistant to regular antibiotics.
How did this happen? No one seems
to know, but it appears that the MRSA bacteria may have "colonized"
in some part of Nina's body after the operation in Philadelphia.
There are many theories, but somehow the MRSA entered Nina's bloodstream,
possibly through one of the incisions. At the time, doctors were
concerned that the infection would spread to her spine and infect
the recently inserted staples, thus requiring another operation
to remove and replace them.
As it turned out, Nina was treated
with a series of powerful antibiotics during a two-week stay in
the hospital. After she returned home she continued to receive
massive doses of intravenous (IV) antibiotics. Thankfully, the
infection did not migrate to her spine.
Nina no longer requires the IV,
but still takes oral antibiotics. She has now regained a good
deal of her strength and has returned to school on a part-time
basis. We pray that this nightmare is now over.
For more information on MRSA, go