May 9, 2016

Scoliosis patient returns to gymnastics after surgery

Neck, Back and Spine | Patient Stories | Pediatric Orthopedics

This post is part of The Ultimate Guide to Back Pain Relief

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

How does scoliosis affect the body?

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

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 physician Dr. David Schwartz who specializes in spine and pediatric orthopedics.

“Dr. Schwartz was amazing,” Lisa said. “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.

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 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, 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,” said Lisa.

Pros and cons of back surgery

Can you fix scoliosis?

Genova had begun icing her back every night due to the 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 mind.

“We were both very upset at the thought of her never tumbling again,” said Lisa. “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 correct the 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 joked around with each other and it made me feel less stressed about surgery,” said Genova. “After surgery, we still joked around and it made me feel like I was important to them!”

Recovery after scoliosis surgery

Life after 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 spine surgery.

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,” said Genova. “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,” said Lisa. “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 recovery is not an exception, but rather pretty typical for all my scoliosis surgery patients,” said Dr. Schwartz.

The road ahead

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.

Genova now lives her life to the fullest without fear getting in the way. After returning to the sport she loved, 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.

To schedule an appointment with Dr. Schwartz, please call 317.802.2883 or learn more about OrthoIndy spine.

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Your well-being is important to us. Click the button below or call us to schedule an appointment with one of our orthopedic specialists. If your injury or condition is recent, you can walk right into one of our OrthoIndy Urgent Care locations for immediate care. For rehabilitation and physical therapy, no referral is needed to see one of our physical therapists.

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