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Life with a curved spine

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When Kezia Wairimu was 14, she developed idiopathic scoliosis, one of three different types of scoliosis that causes the spine to develop an abnormal S-shaped or C-shaped curve.

“While in Class Eight, my parents noticed a slight change with my posture and a protruding right shoulder blade,” she says.

It is every mother’s desire to give birth to a healthy baby. But this is not always fulfilled as some babies are born or grow up with conditions that can at times be life threatening, as now was the case with Kezia. Hence, her mother was the first to notice changes in her daughter’s body posture.

“My mother, who is in the medical field, knew that something was wrong immediately she noticed change in my walking style,” she says.

It is every mother’s desire to give birth to a healthy baby.

According to The National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and skin disease, scoliosis is a sideways curve of the spine. It is the most common spinal disorder in children and adolescents. Besides, it is characterised by a side-to-side curvature of the spine, usually combined with a rotation of the vertebrae and quite often, a reduced kyphosis in thoracic curves. Hence, she was sure that she had the condition, or at least her mother was.

Surgery

Ms Wairimu was taken to several orthopaedic doctors. However, she is more indebted to Dr Mutiso, an orthopaedic doctor at the Nairobi Hospital, Doctors’ Plaza, who handled her situation in an outstanding way.  He advised that she should undergo surgery as her curvature was worsening by the day.

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“At that time, the surgery was not performed in Kenyan hospitals.  He recommended that I fly to India or South Africa, which would have cost over Sh. 2 Million. Fortunately for me, doctors from the United States who were scheduled to do subsidised hip and knee replacements at Kenyatta Hospital, also had scoliosis surgery in their list,” says Ms Wairimu, with a sigh of relief.

In September 2006, Ms Wairimu was scheduled for the surgery which eventually cost less than the initial amount. They paid Sh300, 000. Her surgery took over eight hours, as the surgeons put titanium rods along her spine, from her neck to the tail bone, to correct the curvature.

“I faced several challenges. For example, taking long walks was and still is a challenge. Besides, running and carrying a heavy load are also part of the struggle,” Ms Wairimu says.

She did not sit for her Kenya Certificate for Primary Education exam as she was scheduled for the surgery during that time. This saw her changing to the British IGCSE system at Loreto Msongari.

She admits to be lucky that she has never been bullied by her peers, as that would have left her psychologically traumatised.

“I have met amazing people along my scoliosis journey, those living with the condition, their parents and new friends who found inspiration from my journey,” she adds.

Counselling sessions

Now 29 years of age, Ms Wairimu who studied Counselling Psychology at Daystar University, is pursuing a Master of Science in Clinical Psychology at the University of Nairobi.

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“Due to the  Covid-19 pandemic, I offer two free initial counselling sessions via zoom to help those suffering from any stressful event or mental health issue,” she says.

Ultimately, her main goal is to make an impact in someone’s life, by helping them improve their situations.  She also hopes to inspire anyone who feels that life has been a challenge for them. With the support and encouragement that she gets from her family and friends, she believes that nothing in life is impossible.

FACT BOX

  • Official diagnosis of idiopathic scoliosis requires X-ray confirmation of the abnormal lateral curvature and spinal rotation, as well as ruling out other possible causes for the deformity.
  • The signs and symptoms of scoliosis also vary by type and severity.
  • During a child’s growth spurt, the signs of idiopathic scoliosis often become more noticeable. These include: uneven shoulders; one shoulder blade protruding more than the other; ribs more prominent on one side; uneven waistline; and difference in hip height.
  • Dr Joshua N. Ondari, an orthopaedic and spine surgeon at Nakuru Level 5 Hospital, says that Scoliosis in children of school age and above primarily occurs in girls. Its prevalence is 1 percent to 2 percent among adolescents on a 4:1 ratio, but more than fifty per-cent among persons over age sixty.
  • Although idiopathic scoliosis can occur at any age, it frequently becomes an issue during pre-adolescence and adolescence when children are growing rapidly.
  • The therapeutic goal in children is to prevent progression. In children, scoliosis of twenty degrees or more should be treated with a brace, and scoliosis of forty-five degrees or more with surgery.
  • To him, the treatment of adults with scoliosis is determined on an individual basis, with physiotherapy and braces playing a relatively minor role. Adults who have scoliosis and sagittal imbalance may be best served by surgical treatment.
  • The major types of non-idiopathic scoliosis are congenital scoliosis due to malformation or faulty segmentation of the vertebrae and neuromuscular scoliosis due to muscular imbalance.
  • Idiopathic scoliosis is classified as infantile, juvenile, or adolescent, depending on the age at which it is first noted. A fourth category is that of adult scoliosis, which may be either a continuation of adolescent idiopathic scoliosis or a de novo development owing to degenerative changes or other causes.
  • In elderly patients, de novo scoliosis is often hard to tell apart from pre-existing idiopathic scoliosis with superimposed degenerative changes.
  • Studies have shown that, unfortunately, there is no easy fix for scoliosis. There is no cure for scoli. Most people’s scoliosis has an unknown cause or causes. Now, everything in life has a cause, but because scoli can originate from so many different pathologies and origins, there typically is not an obvious single cause.
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