Following a routine tonsillectomy at age 13, Sadie Dennison wasn’t quite herself and her observant mom took notice.
“I had some complications that made me lose my appetite,” said Sadie. “I got really bony, and as a result my mom noticed that my shoulders looked crooked.”
Sadie’s mom, Michelle, who used to work with sports medicine physician Dr. Joe Congeni, knew immediately that something was off with her daughter.
“I called Dr. Congeni, and he got us in right away,” said Michelle. “He did an x-ray that showed a 35-degree curve indicating Sadie had scoliosis.”
Dr. Congeni referred the Dennisons to pediatric orthopedic surgeon, Dr. Lorena Floccari, for evaluation.
“Dr. Floccari put me in a Boston brace which I was required to wear 23 hours a day,” Sadie said.
Sadie wore the Boston brace for a year, but she struggled with her self-esteem because of it.
“I hated it because it was uncomfortable and noticeable – so much so that I started to wear baggy clothes to cover it up,” she said.
Eventually, Sadie switched to a kind of brace she only wore while sleeping.
“Although the Boston brace is widely considered the gold standard treatment for preventing progression of curve pattern, treatment must be individualized,” said Dr. Floccari. “A nighttime brace can still be effective at avoiding the need for surgery, and I felt this option would improve Sadie’s overall well-being.”
While the night brace worked for a while, Sadie’s curve progressed to 50 degrees which made her a candidate for spinal fusion surgery.
“Scoliosis is closely linked to growth, and smaller curves typically stop progressing after adolescence. However, once a curve exceeds 50 degrees, we expect it will continue to get bigger over the course of one’s lifetime and cause future problems as an adult,” said Dr. Floccari. “Therefore, I felt Sadie would have a better long-term outcome with surgery to straighten her spine.”
On January 31, 2022, Sadie underwent spinal fusion surgery. Dr. Floccari used 18 screws, 2 rods and a bone graft to help straighten her spine.
“We use state-of-the-art technology and have a great team of nurses, anesthesiologists and surgical staff to make each surgery as safe and effective as possible,” said Dr. Floccari. “While our primary goal is to safely fuse the spine and prevent future progression, I was pleased that we achieved a near 100% improvement in Sadie’s curve magnitude.”
Sadie started physical therapy the next day in the hospital but suffered from an episode of syncope which caused her oxygen level to drop. Once Sadie was able to walk up 2 flights of stairs, she was discharged from the hospital to continue her recovery.
“Sadie wasn’t allowed to bend, twist or lift anything over 10 pounds so swimming in our backyard pool has been good therapy for her,” said Michelle.
A sophomore at Columbiana High School, Sadie, age 16, plays for her high school team.
“We have a volleyball net in our pool, so I was able to work on my serves since I’m not allowed to condition with the team yet,” said Sadie, who hasn’t been cleared for contact sports.
In addition to swimming, Sadie has been biking, hiking, walking and using light hand weights to help rebuild her strength.
“I’m pleased with how well Sadie has recovered. Her spine looks great, and I can tell her overall well-being has improved since having the surgery and focusing on her recovery,” said Dr. Floccari. “Her 6-month postoperative visit is coming up soon, and I expect she will be able to return to full activity, including volleyball and all other contact activities at that time.”
“Dr. Floccari and Jessica have been amazing,” said Michelle. “We’ve been emotional through this whole process, and they took the time to reassure us everything would be OK.”
With her curve now stable at 5 degrees, Sadie is looking forward to starting her sophomore year and hopefully playing volleyball again soon.
“In the moment, surgery seemed like the worst thing,” said Sadie. “Looking back now, I’m glad I had it and I’m proud of myself for how far I’ve come.”
Learn more about scoliosis and explore the treatments offered at the Spine Center, an Akron Children’s Hospital Center of Excellence.