Bode's successful spinal surgery at just 14

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She’s now reassuring other young patients with Idiopathic Adolescent Scoliosis

Bode was about 12 years old the first time a school friend noticed that her back looked a bit uneven “It was while we were changing for PE, “says Bode. “I had been vaguely aware that my right-hand shoulder blade stuck out more when I was sitting down but I just figured I was a bit wonky.” Bode didn’t think much more about it until a family holiday not long after that, when her mum Cassie realised something more serious was up: “Bode was swimming in the sea and I saw an unusual bump in her back and a definite curve in her spine. It was the first time I’d noticed anything at all.”

Knowledge is power

An experienced airline pilot, Cassie understands the value of having the right expertise at hand, so she researched extensively online and looked for the best consultants near their home in Notting Hill. “Mr Lucas was really responsive and had great patient reviews so we booked in for an initial consultation,” she says.

“I immediately liked Mr Lucas. He was warm but also really clear and straightforward.” Says Bode. “Yes, in fact, he reminded me of my dad,” Cassie agrees. “He confirmed a diagnosis of Idiopathic Adolescent Scoliosis. I had come armed with some complex questions about why he wasn’t planning to use surgical techniques like flexible rods and he tackled them all head on with logical answers, giving us good reasons for his surgical approach. His clarity and confidence were reassuring.

Surgery - vital but not urgent

On that first visit, Jonathan Lucas noted the pronounced 53° curvature of Bode’s spine. By the next appointment, the curve had progressed to almost 56°. “It was almost visibly changing, month by month. That’s when Mr Lucas told us that Bode would definitely need surgery,” says Cassie. Bode continues: “He said that without surgery the curve would start to really impact my thoracic and lung capacity in later life and may affect my ability to run around and do sport – which was already a bit diminished. By then I was almost 14 and Mr Lucas said I was already 85% skeletally mature, so bracing wasn’t an option in the way it is if you’re in earlier stages of growth.”

The surgery wasn’t urgent however and Mr Lucas advised that they could hold off for a while. “But I decided to just get it done so it didn’t interfere with my GCSEs,” says Bode.

Colourful on the inside

Bode’s operation was scheduled at renowned The Portland Hospital. Mr Lucas has 25 years’ experience as a consultant orthopaedic spine surgeon and he works with fellow consultant orthopaedic spine surgeon Mr Harris, who also has extensive experience treating spinal conditions in children. This dual consultant approach comes as standard as it speeds the operation and reduces complications and the length of hospital stay. This is all proven to deliver better outcomes for patients like Bode. There’s also neurosurgical and vascular support at hand for added safety.

“Bode was told they would be putting hot pink, neon green and purple rods and screws in her back which felt exciting. The different colours apparently relate to different lengths. We were also told that the whole area of her back had been sprinkled with ‘magic powder’ at the end of the procedure to support healing. It was actually antibiotic powder, but as Bode has a vivid imagination, all this detail really helped to transport Bode and keep her positive.” remembers Cassie. “I love knowing that I’m colourful on the inside!” Bode adds.

The surgery fitted Bode with one titanium and one cobalt chrome rod on either side of her spine held in place by 18 screws. “Comparing the before and after X-Rays, they managed to make my spine perfectly straight which was incredible."

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Working together to quickly get Bode home

Bode stayed in hospital for four days after the operation, under the close care of the spinal unit’s Clinical Nursing Specialist team. “One nurse called Holly was my lifeline, helping me to get walking again. It felt like the whole team was there to help me get well – they become almost like family,” she shares.

Though it’s never been an outcome after a procedure that Mr Lucas has conducted, there is a very low risk of paralysis with this operation. “We had been told about the risks and Mr Lucas checked in every day after the operation to see how I was progressing. He’d scrape the bottom of my feet to check for responsiveness. I felt that I was in very safe hands.” Bode shares. Cassie adds: “We met Holly a few times before the operation and she was charming and easy to email to answer any practical questions we had about things like washing after the operation. It was great to have that female contact.”

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Quickly back to full health

While Bode’s recovery was one of the fastest Mr Lucas has ever seen, once the morphine started to wear off recovery was initially painful. However just two weeks after the surgery, Bode was back at school. Within four weeks, she’d started playing volleyball again. Six weeks post-surgery the family went to Santorini where Bode enjoyed scuba diving with her siblings. Within three months she was cantering on a horse across the beach in the Dominican Republic. “It was sooner than Mr Lucas advised to be honest! But I felt so well that I just went for it.”

Bode had regular physiotherapy over the following year to strengthen her back and even out its appearance because all the compacted muscles on the inside of the spinal curve had to be cut during surgery while all the muscles on the outside of the curve had stretched and atrophied. “All your muscles in your shoulders, arms and hips are connected so everything in my body just needed adjusting,” says Bode.

Sharing to help others

“At the beginning of my journey I found talking to a family friend who’d had a similar op really helpful,” says Bode. She has since found time in her busy school schedule to talk to another teenage girl facing spinal surgery, sharing her experience to help reassure her.

A year on, Bode has had a series of check-ups and X-rays and all is going well. She has no pain and just thin scar down the length of her spine. As a memento, Bode wears a bracelet which has her surgery date and 18 + 2 engraved on it to mark the 18 screws and two rods she has in her back. “The whole thing didn’t cause to much disruption to my life after all. I’m going back next year for a further check-up but really, I think that’s it."

Explore HCA UK’s state-of-the-art Portland Scoliosis and Spinal Surgery practice here.

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