May 9, 2016

Patient returns to gymnastics after surgery to fix scoliosis

Neck, Back and Spine | Patient Stories | Pediatric Orthopedics


A young girl named Genova underwent surgery at OrthoIndy to fix scoliosis and went on to become a champion tumbler. 

“She is a fighter.” That is how Lisa Schultheis describes her daughter, Genova.

Read on to hear Genova’s story and learn how she’s thriving since having spinal surgery to fix scoliosis.

How does scoliosis affect the body?

After living in three different households, Genova’s fourth home became her final home after the Schultheis family adopted her at the age of five.

Two years later, Genova began gymnastics. Eventually, she developed a passion for the sport,            and tumbling became her favorite hobby.

In August 2012, Genova’s life as she knew it came to an abrupt halt after her scoliosis diagnosis.

Scoliosis is an abnormal curvature of the spine. It is usually diagnosed at a young age and is most common in females. The bones of the spine twist on each other, forming a “C” or an “S” shape. The disorder is hereditary; however, the cause is unknown and there is no known cure—only treatment to reduce symptoms.

The Schultheis family went to OrthoIndy surgeon Dr. David Schwartz who specializes in spine and pediatric orthopedics.

“Dr. Schwartz was amazing,” Lisa says. “His ability to be confident, yet not arrogant, and personable gave me comfort that Genova was in good hands.”

Scoliosis affects five to seven million people in the United States, according to the American Chiropractic Association. While most cases are mild, the curvature of the spine can affect the quality of life severely enough to reduce lung function and affect the heart. Fortunately, there are surgical options to fix scoliosis.

In the middle of discovering Genova would need surgery for the severity of her curve, she injured her foot. The surgery to repair her foot would require the placement of plates and screws.

Due to the stress of the surgery, Genova’s spine surgery to fix scoliosis was postponed indefinitely. Genova underwent foot surgery in January, and the hardware was removed four months later.

The following August, Genova went to visit Dr. Schwartz to follow up on her progress. Dr. Schwartz told the family that they needed to act quickly to fix scoliosis because the curve of the spine itself was shifting. The seriousness of the situation began to weigh heavily on the Schultheis family.

“This is when I began to get nervous,” Lisa says.

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Genova gets surgery to fix scoliosis

Genova had begun icing her back every night due to the scoliosis pain but pushed through. She continued her active lifestyle, always doing everything to the best of her ability.

The thought of never being able to tumble again always settled in the back of Genova and her mother’s minds.

“We were both very upset at the thought of her never tumbling again,” Lisa says. “The weekend before surgery we went to our high school football field and she tumbled. We videotaped her performance thinking this may be her last time. We both cried. She even tumbled Monday morning on the way into surgery.”

Dr. Schwartz performed surgery on Genova at St.Vincent Indianapolis Hospital. By the time of surgery, her spine was at a 60-degree angle. Two titanium rods were placed to fix scoliosis curve and support Genova’s spine.

After surgery, Dr. Schwartz and the rest of his team remained positive. Their contagious positivity helped the Schultheis’ anxiety.

“We always joke around with each other and it made me feel less stressed about surgery,” Genova says. “After surgery, we still joked around and it made me feel like I was important to them!”

Recovery after scoliosis surgery

Life after scoliosis back surgery was a big change for Genova. She went from being an active young woman to having to lay down for hours at a time. Remaining relaxed and stationery is a common challenge after spinal surgery for scoliosis.

After a time, those sedentary days came to an end and Genova was back on her feet moving freely.

“I’m a gymnast and I started doing cartwheels in my living room three months after surgery,” Genova says. “A couple months after that, I started tumbling classes but I never thought I would be able to compete in gymnastics again.”

Genova went on to win an all-around title at the 2015 Lady Luck Invitational in Las Vegas.

“I asked Dr. Schwartz if he was surprised by Genova’s ability to still tumble,” Lisa says. “He said, ‘the biggest thing that gets in the way is fear.’ Dr. Schwartz used his incredible gifts and talents to allow Genova the opportunity to overcome her fears and tumble again.”

“Genova is such a great kid. I’m so proud of her accomplishments. As a gift, she gave me an autographed picture of her on the podium with her gold medal. It makes me smile every time I look at it. The other great thing to know is that her scoliosis recovery is not an exception, but rather pretty typical for all my surgery patients,” Dr. Schwartz says.

Learn more about OrthoIndy spine treatments

The road ahead

After scoliosis surgery, Genova Schultheis, now 16, has a bright road ahead of her with many things to look forward to. She can ride roller coasters, sit up straight without terrible effort and serve her community.

In her free time, Genova enjoys spending time with her friends, photography, attending youth groups, solving puzzles and staying active.

After her surgery to fix scoliosis, Genova now lives her life to the fullest without fear getting in the way. After returning to the sport she loves, Genova plans to get involved with other sports as well, such as basketball, cross country and track. She continues to be the active young woman she has always been and fighting to be exactly who she wants to be.

The Ultimate Guide to Scoliosis Treatment cover

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Whether you’re just beginning to research scoliosis or have already made the decision to have scoliosis back surgery, our comprehensive guide gives you answers to common questions about scoliosis and examples of real patient success stories.

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