One day Kamryn Magaw was an active student athlete (tennis, volleyball, cross country and cheerleading), counting the days to the start of her freshman year at Archbishop Hoban High School. The next she was in an exam room at Akron Children’s Hospital with a pediatric orthopedic surgeon showing her an x-ray of her curved spine. She would need surgery to straighten it, he said, and waiting too long wasn’t an option.
This was a significant moment in what Kamryn’s mom, Julie, would call their family’s “whirlwind year.”
Earlier in October 2020, Kamryn, then 14, was at her “wellness check-up” when the nurse practitioner called Julie over to show her Kamryn’s back. The Adam’s Forward Bend Test is a simple procedure that allows a provider to look for unevenness or abnormality in the shoulders, rib cage or back. Kamryn’s curvature was pronounced, and she was referred to Dr. Todd Ritzman, chair of the Department of Orthopedic Surgery at Akron Children’s.
“Seeing the x-ray of Kamryn’s back was devastating,” said Julie. “It’s one thing to feel it and see it in her back. Seeing the x-ray was eye-opening. It was really hard. Of course, I just wanted it fixed.”
The curve was measured at 42 degrees and Dr. Ritzman explained to Kamryn that based on her age and stage of puberty that she was mostly done growing. This ruled out treatment options like bracing.
Kamryn began working with physical therapists trained in the Schroth method, developed especially for patients with scoliosis. And Dr. Ritzman wanted to see her again in 6 months.
On that visit in April 2021, the x-ray showed further progression. Now with a curve measured at 53 degrees, Dr. Ritzman said it was time to consider surgery.
“It was a lot for Kamryn to take in,” said Julie. “She especially needed to hear from Dr. Ritzman why surgery was so important given that she was not in pain.”
It was preventative, he told her. Without surgery, her scoliosis could worsen, and eventually impact her breathing, posture and movement. In addition, it was much easier to recover from a major surgery as a teen than as an adult.
Kamryn’s team, including Dr. Ritzman, Spine Center nurse-coordinator Colleen Neal, and child life specialist Brittany Deckert, walked her through the pre- and post-surgical process and used a skeletal model to show her how Dr. Ritzman would straighten her spine. The exact surgical plan for spinal fusion would be determined at a comprehensive pre-operative consultation.
Julie said she loved that Kamryn was central in the discussion, rather than Dr. Ritzman focusing on her and her husband, Zac.
“He told Kamryn, ‘I know this is a big deal. This is a huge thing going on in your life,’” Julie said. “He was very good at explaining ‘the why.’”
Kamryn got to take her 8th grade trip and a family beach vacation and then surgery was scheduled for July 1.
She was on Cloud 9 in recovery because it was over, and her recovery progressed quickly. After a three-day hospitalization, she returned home walking and even climbing stairs, albeit at a slow pace.
Although she missed out on her freshman tennis season, her coach made her feel just as part of the team as if she were out on the court.
Dr. Ritzman had approved her return to swimming in July, and tennis in August. By her 6-month post-surgery mark, her life was back to normal. She had been allowed to celebrate her 15th birthday roller-skating with friends, ride coasters at Cedar Point and do nearly everything alongside her fellow cheerleaders.
“Kamryn was a model patient,” said Dr. Ritzman. “She worked very hard at her recovery, and it is exciting to see her back to all of her pre-operative activities and athletics. This is the expectation for patients following selective thoracic fusion for adolescent idiopathic scoliosis, and I am thankful she is willing to share her personal success as a comfort and inspiration to others who may encounter the same diagnosis and treatment.”
As overwhelming as news of her scoliosis was, Kamryn and her family have focused on the many blessings, such as a successful surgery, the minor interruption of her school year and removing any worry about her spine moving forward.
The experience may have even given Kamryn a career to consider.
She really bonded with Brittany and appreciated all the extra little things Brittany did to ease her fears leading up to surgery. She just might be able to one day picture herself as a child life specialist – working in a children’s hospital and helping other kids in similar situations.