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Dr. Vitale came to see me before surgery and made me feel much better

In 2015, when I was 9 years old, I was diagnosed with scoliosis. I was asked to touch my toes by my doctor and she saw a hump on my back and then sent me to an Orthopedic Doctor. When I saw that first doctor she told me my upper thoracic curve was 45 degrees and I needed surgery right away. She never discussed the option of wearing a brace or physical therapy as an option to prevent surgery. My parents wanted a second opinion and that’s when they found Dr. Vitale. He knew I was scared to have surgery and he suggested we try the Rigo brace and Schroth therapy. Even though my parents trusted Dr. Vitale they brought me to FOUR other doctors across the country including San Diego, Philadelphia and Boston but after all those visits we all knew we liked and trusted Dr. Vitale the most.

I saw Dr. Vitale every 6 months for an X-ray. Wearing the brace was very hard for me. I didn’t mind wearing it at home and when I went to sleep but I hated wearing it at school. I knew that I had to wear it for 18 hours a day for it to work. I was always nervous before my appointments because I felt I wasn’t wearing the brace enough and my curve was getting worse. I wore the brace until I stopped growing at 12 years old which was February of 2018.  My curve was in the low 50s after my 3 years of bracing. Dr. Vitale always told us that if my curve went passed 50 degrees it might get worse on its own even after I stop growing and stop bracing. And that is exactly what happened. In August of 2018, after not wearing a brace for 6 months my curve went to 62 degrees. Dr. Vitale told us it was time for surgery because my curve would continue to get worse without it. My Mom and I cried at the visit but she also said that she trusted Dr. Vitale and knew he would only tell me I needed surgery if I had to and I knew he was right, too. Even though I was scared about surgery, I was happy to know I didn’t have to keep worrying about getting worse. I would be better when it was done and I can stop worrying.

Ella at Science Fair

Ella at Science Fair

Before my surgery I participated in my school Science Fair. I decided to do my project on early detection of scoliosis and how important it is for pediatricians and school nurses to check children’s backs 1-2 times a year. Many schools do not have their nurses check even though it is mandatory by their State. My pediatrician also forgot to do this during one of my well visits. My study showed that kids who were not checked between the ages of 9-12 were at a higher risk for surgery because their curves were found when they were much worse. My curve was found at 45 degrees but if I had been checked when I was 8 there is a chance we would have caught it sooner and the brace could have helped me more. I won first place in the Science Fair that year.

Ella’s supportive family in Team Ella t-shirts

My surgery was November 2, 2018. It is a day I will never forget. I was very nervous when we got there. I had a lot of anxiety. They let my entire family come and stay in the waiting room. They were all wearing Team Ella T-shirts that my Mom made. The hospital staff was so nice and kept me very calm. Dr. Vitale came to see me before surgery and made me feel much better. He even made some jokes that made us all laugh. He knew I was scared but he kept telling me everything was going to be all right. The nurses let my Mom walk me to the operating room. She was able to watch me through the window until I feel asleep and that made me feel really safe. My surgery was about 7 hours but I don’t remember anything about it. When I woke up everyone at the hospital took really good care of me. I stayed there for 5 days and Dr. Vitale visited me everyday. He kept telling me how good I was doing and him and my parents were still making jokes so that always made me feel like everything was ok. One of my biggest memories is when Dr. Vitale said he never saw an entire family wearing the same shirt during a surgery. I know my family is very special.

My recovery was a lot easier than I thought. The hospital sent me home with a lot of medicine but the day I got home I only needed Tylenol or Advil. I didn’t need any of the stronger medicine but I only needed those for the first 2 days. By the 8th day after surgery I did not need any pain medicine at all. I didn’t even need Tylenol. When we went to see Dr. Vitale after 2 weeks he said that was a miracle. Everyone kept telling me how brave and strong I was but I just wanted to get back to school and back to being with my friends so I did everything I was told to do.

Ella hiking one of the world’s highest waterfalls in Iceland, 8 months post-surgery!

Scoliosis Patient & Support

Support for Ella from her school

I went back to school part-time 4 weeks after my surgery. I went on vacation to Florida 5 weeks after my surgery and back to school full-time 6 weeks after my surgery. I am writing this 11 months after my surgery and my life is exactly how it was before. I can do everything I did before and some things I can do even better—like running, which always bothered me. I speak to many girls who are about to have surgery and I tell them not to be scared because it is a lot easier than you think. I also tell them that Dr. Vitale is the best doctor and he will help them and their parents feel better.

People always ask me how scoliosis changed my life and I tell them it made me learn so much about so many things, but most of all it made me understand how important doctors are and how much they help heal so many people. I hope I can one day do something as a grown up that will change people’s lives like the way Dr. Vitale changed mine.