Mandate life-saving scoliosis screenings in elementary schools

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I had been 9 years old for only a month when my mother, as paranoid as she was, scheduled an appointment with my doctor when she discovered a curve in my spine. December 22 was the day I was diagnosed with scoliosis and fitted with a body brace that I was to wear for 23 hours a day.

Scoliosis is a multifactorial back deformity that is identified by the curvature of the spine. Almost 9 million people in the United States suffer from scoliosis, and most scoliosis develops between the ages of 10 to 15. One out of forty people are affected by scoliosis.

There's a presumption that a family's primary physician will screen a child for scoliosis. However, clearly this is not true as many scoliosis patients are not diagnosed until their spine is noticeably deformed. Additionally, this assumes that all children have a doctor.

The scoliosis body brace is a primitive device that binds your ribs and spine to prevent worsening of a curve. Like a corset, the back brace binds the wearer stiffly. But unlike a corset, the scoliosis brace is asymmetrical and made of hard plastic. It constricts breathing, prevents skin airflow, and makes moving extremely difficult.

My friends asked why I always sat out on the sidelines when they were playing tag. I needed help picking up a pencil. Swimming and dance stopped. I had constant skin irritation and rashes. No pants could stretch around the extra inches the brace gave me. The summer heat was unbearable underneath a brace, and I could literally wring drops of sweat out of my undershirt.

However, I am extremely lucky that I was successfully braced as a result of early detection and intervention. Untreated, scoliosis progressively impacts one's life, especially through puberty's growth spurts. Scoliosis stunts growth and puts dangerous pressure on vital organs, such as the heart, liver, and lungs.

 California state laws currently require scoliosis screenings for girls in the seventh grade, and boys in the eighth. However, this is often much too late for corrective back braces. Too-often, by the seventh and eighth grades, scoliosis has already developed for several years. Critical scoliosis patients are then forced to undergo spinal fusion surgery.

Spinal fusion surgery is an extensive open-back surgery that places permanent metal rods into the spine to fuse the vertebrae together. It leaves permanent effects.

According to the National Scoliosis Foundation, approximately 38,000 patients undergo spinal fusion surgery. These surgery numbers are far too large.

It is imperative that the state of California mandates scoliosis screenings in early pubescent children. All students should be annually screened for scoliosis, starting in the fourth grade.

Early scoliosis detection saves lives. Let’s change the lives of thousands of people. Let’s make a difference.

Please don’t let us down.