“I will never let scoliosis define me. It can only make me stronger.”
“You’re like Superwoman, but your S is internal.”
“Stars can’t shine without darkness. Don’t fade because of scoliosis.”
These are just a few of the inspiring words Emily Parkinson was moved to put down on paper while sitting in her mom’s 5th-grade classroom, waiting for her to finish up a parent-teacher open house.
She turned her deep thoughts, wisdom and experiences since being diagnosed with scoliosis 3 years ago into a piece of art that’s an inspiration to others.
The poster is a series of encouraging words wrapped around a picture of an S-shaped spine, representing the curve of her own backbone.
“I didn’t really know that’s what she had in her mind about it. She turned the whole thing into something positive,” said her mom, Robyn Patterson. “I was just super, super proud of her as a young woman for overcoming it and being as strong as she was. That’s every mother’s hope for their teenage daughters to be strong and an inspiration to other people.”
It’s been nearly a year since Emily got to part ways with her back brace. Though there’s no cure for scoliosis, Emily feels stronger than ever and eager to encourage other girls going through a similar experience.
“I made it so other people can look at [scoliosis] as not such a bad thing,” Emily said. “When I was first diagnosed with scoliosis, I thought it was some awful thing that was gonna ruin my life, but then I realized that it wasn’t and it was something I could overcome.”
And she did. Emily is scoliosis strong.
Emily’s battle with scoliosis
Emily was diagnosed with scoliosis in 2011 during a routine checkup at her pediatrician’s office. He suspected a curve in her spine and immediately referred her to Dr. Mark Adamczyk, a pediatric orthopedic surgeon at Akron Children’s Hospital, for further testing.
“It was devastating to her,” said Robyn. “It’s hard to be a kid nowadays, you know, with body image and how teenage girls are. It was a hard pill to swallow, but she was a trooper.”
Because it was found early, Emily was able to avoid surgery. Instead, Dr. Adamczyk treated her using a back brace that prevented her spine from curving any further during her prime growing years. Though it doesn’t help improve scoliosis, the brace prevents it from getting worse.
“I was 11 and I didn’t really understand what was wrong with me,” said Emily. “I didn’t really understand what was going on until the reality hit me that I needed to wear the brace.”
For 3 years, Emily had to wear the hard plastic brace every night while she slept because that’s when children do the majority of their growing.
Each night, Emily had to pull the Velcro straps of the brace extremely tight, almost like a corset or girdle. It extended from under her armpits to below her hip bone.
She couldn’t bend at the waist, so crawling into bed was a challenge, let alone sleeping comfortably. She was forced to sleep on her back and it was hard to breathe.
Emily admits the brace was difficult to adapt to and sleepovers with friends weren’t the same.
“I felt like I was weirdly different from other girls when I went to sleepovers and things,” she said.
Today, Emily no longer needs to wear the brace, but she sees a chiropractor regularly to stretch and twist her back to encourage movement.
She’s proud of her journey — one that made her stronger and more confident. She hopes her story can inspire others and spread awareness about the importance of early detection.
“Our big thing is telling people to be sure that they get checked out. Emily is only 14 now, but she’s 5-8 already,” said Robyn. “Scoliosis just seems to be something that does affect a lot of people, but you just don’t hear a lot about it.”