When Sydney Sill was just seven years old, she was diagnosed with scoliosis, a curvature of the spine that can mean a life colored by disfiguration and filled with pain. But when Sill was 12 she had spinal fusion surgery at Shriners Hospital for Children in Greenville, South Carolina, and since that time there’s been nothing to stand in the way of her accomplishments and dreams. She was recently named a runner up in the Miss South Carolina pageant, and is a senior at Clemson University, about to graduate with a degree in communications and nonprofit leadership.
Scoliosis impacts approximately 9 million people in the United States. Diagnosis can be a challenge, as the deformity develops gradually, and unless a physician is keenly observant the spine can end up severely curved before it is identified. In Sill’s case, by the time her parents were told she had the illness her curvature was 28 degrees.
For four years she struggled with her condition, wearing a back brace to try to keep the curve from getting worse as her spine grew. The attempt was unsuccessful, and by the time she had finished a growth spurt her curvature was up to 54 degrees. Once the spine’s bend is that severe it can impact breathing, and that is what happened to her. “I would get winded when I ran up the stairs because my rib cage was compressing my lungs,” she said. “That’s why I had to have an operation.”
Spinal cord fusion surgery is not able to completely straighten the spine, but it can offer some correction and prevent the curve from getting worse. In Sill’s case the rods in her spine means she couldn’t do any physical activity for a full year after the surgery. It kept her from being a cheerleader in middle school, but she went on to participate in high school. She also hikes and dances. In fact, her talent in the Miss South Carolina Teen contest in 2012 was tap dancing. In that competition she spoke on the subject, “If you can believe it you can achieve it – overcoming life’s obstacles.” A few years later competing for the adult pageant her them was “I’m possible – perseverance into possibilities.”
Speaking of her surgery, Sill says, “I’m able to live a normal life. I can never repay the Shriners Hospital for what they did, not only in healing me, but in giving me this platform where I can inspire other people.” Today she volunteers at the hospital, paying special attention to children about to go through surgery themselves and will be interning at the hospital after she graduates. “I want to help other people through whatever obstacle, whether it’s being a patient in a hospital or having a bad home life. And let them know that if you persevere and have determination you can overcome it.”
Dr. Rovner can help you answer questions about scoliosis and other spine conditions. Contact our office today to set up an appointment.