How groundbreaking surgery helped one mother and daughter overcome scoliosis.
As Grace’s X-ray flickered on to the screen, I could feel my knees give way: my daughter was equally stunned as she stared at the image of her spinal column, its lower half curved like an upside down question mark.
A couple of years ago, when the doorbell rang at 5am, I had found Grace on the doorstep in tears. She had been at a sleepover when, out of the blue, the nagging, low-level backache she’d complained about for months had exploded. The pain was so bad she could not bear to be in someone else’s house and had somehow dragged herself home.
I’d never taken her back pain seriously. But now here we were, in April 2011, at the Royal National Orthopaedic Hospital in London, being told it was caused by stress fractures linked to scoliosis, a progressive curvature of the spine.
The scoliosis could be halted, but the prospect of the surgery she would have to undergo was simply terrifying. Grace silently slipped her hand into mine for comfort as we took in some of the details: a huge incision, the removal of a rib and collapse of a lung to get to the spine before shoring it up with metal screws. “Mum, it’s so horrible! You can’t let them do that,” she cried, as we walked across the car park after the consultation. All I could do was try to stop myself from weeping and reassure her that everything would be fine. In truth, I was as scared as she was. It was the beginning of a two-year journey that has rewritten our lives; upended the mother-daughter relationship, made us recipients of the best surgical skills the 21st century can offer, given us an unlikely link to England’s last Plantagenet king – and taught me about the tango. It has also given me an unexpected insight into my family’s own medical history.
That evening I phoned my mother, holding a copy of Grace’s X-ray so I could try to describe her spine. “Oh! Your father had that,” she said, with a gasp.
My father had been dead for eight years then. I didn’t know he’d had a twisted spine: I’d probably never seen him without a shirt. I didn’t know then that most cases of scoliosis occur randomly and that we were unusual in being able to trace a familial link.
Margarette Driscoll and her daughter Grace show their post
surgery scars. Grace says hers makes her feel ‘like
a Bond girl’