Millie’s story – still hula hooping after scoliosis surgery

Millie's scoliosis story

On the day of her 14th birthday, Millie was driving from South Wales to London with her mum, Vicki, for her long-awaited scoliosis operation. "It was the best birthday present I could ask for," says Millie, who is from Blaenrhondda in the Rhonda Valley, "being given a perfectly straight back."

Millie’s parents first noticed a small hunch when Millie was 13 years old. They recognised it as possible scoliosis and took her to the GP, but they weren’t prepared for how severe it turned out to be. "Seeing that huge ‘S’ on the X-ray was pretty shocking," says Millie. "I couldn't get over how dramatic it was."

Being diagnosed with scoliosis

A normal, straight spine can have curves of anything up to 10 degrees, but Millie’s spine curved 79 degrees at the top and 53 at the base. It was too late for conservative treatment and Millie was told she would need surgery. "Millie was pretty overwhelmed at first," says Vicki, "but then she did loads of research and suddenly she was sayingI’ve got this, I know what to do."

When Millie was originally referred to an NHS consultant, her surgery was delayed a number of times because of the pandemic, which caused her huge anxiety. What’s more, during the long wait between diagnosis and surgery, Millie’s curvature and pain worsened. It was then that Millie’s parents started looking for an alternative. "She was in a lot of pain – her hips hurt, her back hurt, and she was being told she could end up in a wheelchair."

One of the best things for the pain, Millie discovered, was hula hooping. "She was brilliant with the hoop!" says Vicki. "She could do all these clever tricks. But it also helped to mobilise her spine and core – so it would ease the pain almost instantly."

Surgery for scoliosis

Once they found Mr Mark Harris, paediatric orthopaedic surgeon at HCA UK’s The Portland Hospital, Vicki says things finally started moving. "We were handled really well, and his assistant Val was so supportive. They organized all our scans, consultation and meeting with the scoliosis nurses on the same day. Then Val came into the waiting room and said she’d got us a date for surgery."

"Mr Harris was straightforward and honest," says Vicki. "He answered all Millie’s questions and put her at ease. The nurses and physios too – the whole team are lovely – and so great with children and teens."

The next task was to prepare for surgery. For weeks beforehand, Millie was on the treadmill, doing kettlebell exercises, strengthening her core. "I felt I had so little control over the scoliosis. It was all so draining and I had a lot of anxiety, so getting fit was a way of taking back control, knowing I was doing something for my future recovery."

Mr Harris and his associate, Mr Lucas decided to fuse the maximum number of vertebrae to treat her curvature. She now has just 20 degrees curvature, which allows for a small amount of movement at the base of her spine.

After surgery

Millie felt huge relief straight away after the surgery. The next week was then incredibly challenging as Millie was encouraged by the rehabilitation team to sit up, get out of bed and start walking again – a series of major milestones. But Millie says she had been well prepared for the pain and exhaustion and was determined to get through it.

"It was the weirdest feeling, walking for the first time. My whole torso felt so stiff – but it was such an achievement walking to the end of the room!"

Just five days later, Millie was well enough to leave hospital and continued recovering at home. Within six weeks, she was back at school full time. "She kept up her schoolwork the whole time," says Vicki. "So when she went back in January she aced her assessments. It was like she hadn’t been away!"

Millie's recovery and outcome

Now 15, Millie is in the middle of her GCSE mocks. She no longer suffers with constant back pain, and has even taken up hula hooping again. "I’ve had to find new ways of making the hoop spin," she laughs.

The other big difference is her height. Millie grew 7.5cm overnight after her surgery. "When I look back, I remember her feet kept growing but she didn’t get any taller," says Vicki. "I always thought it was strange, but it was because her spine was growing into the S shape. And now all that height has been released!"

Vicki is delighted with the outcome. "She’s got a beautiful straight back now and she’s no longer in pain. She’s got her life back!" Millie says she has a new body confidence and talks with pride about her scar. "It was dark purple at first and it’s fading fast but I don’t want it to because it shows everything I've been through."

"She’s a real example of how you can get your life back after scoliosis surgery," says Vicki. "Maybe she won’t be able to do a backflip, but she can still hoop!"


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This content is intended for general information only and does not replace the need for personal advice from a qualified health professional.
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