Health

How ground­break­ing surgery helped one mother and daugh­ter over­come sco­l­io­sis.

Friday - - Contents -

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’

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