Local group supports girls with scoliosis
Local group supports girls with scoliosis
Being different from your peers in school can be tough and one group is making that challenge a little easier for girls with curvy backs.
Curvy Girls Scoliosis is an international peer-led support group for young women with scoliosis, or curvature of the spine. Treatment for scoliosis includes surgery in more severe cases and wearing a back brace in less severe cases and particularly in adolescents who may still grow.
“I had to wear a brace for 23 hours a day and it would squeeze my spine straight so the bones would go back to being straight,” Melanie Watkins, 14, of Port Tobacco, said of her experience. “...I wasn’t a big fan of the brace because during the summer it gets hot and itchy and it would stick to my clothes and it wasn’t the most pleasant thing.”
Watkins is the leader of the Southern Maryland chapter of Curvy Girls and a sophomore at Lackey High School in Indian Head. She was diagnosed with scoliosis in 2012 at the end of her fifth grade year. She was tasked with wearing her brace all day and one day, when she was eating at Ledo Pizza with her mother, a waitress noticed her brace and told her about the local group.
“I went and I really loved it and after that I kept going and got involved,” Watkins said.
At the time, the meeting took place at a leader’s home in Calvert County. Now, Watkins hosts monthly meetings in her home where the girls talk about how they deal with scoliosis, ask questions and have fun getting to know each other.
Watkins said there are only a few girls currently in the group which isn’t surprising because she has yet to meet anyone at her school or in her community who also has scoliosis.
“It didn’t make me feel different,” Watkins said of being the only person she knew with the diagnosis. “My Dad also has back issues and a lot of people on his side of the family do so I figured it was something that ran in the family.”
According to the Scoliosis Research Society based in Milwaukee, Wis., about four in 100 adolescents have scoliosis and a majority of those cases are idiopathic, meaning that the cause is not known. Scoliosis develops most frequently in preteens or teenagers.
Watkins had surgery in November 2014 where rods were placed in her back that she will have for the rest of her life but that means she no longer has to wear the brace. Though Watkins said she didn’t enjoy wearing her brace she was never ashamed of it.
“I was never embarrassed about my brace. Sometimes I thought it was kind of cool,” Watkins said. “I would decorate it with stickers and markers and so that was another accessory that I wore… I thought it’s just my back it could be worse so I’ll make the best of it.”
Unlike other girls Watkins has known with scoliosis, she says she was never teased about her brace in school or perhaps she never noticed because she has always been a confident person.
“I’ve always been a very accepting person for these kinds of things so it’s not like it was painful so I just thought it’s a back brace so I’ll just have fun with it and here goes nothing,” Watkins said.
“Girls like Melanie amaze me because of the positivity they’re spreading,” Rachel Mulvaney, vice president of Curvy Girls international, said of Watkins. “They’re fueled with empowerment because they continuously give back and are learning to advocate on behalf of the future generation of scoliosis patients and I never thought I would see that in my lifetime.”
Mulvaney, 21, of Long Island is a senior at the University of Rhode Island majoring in health promotion and spanish. She met Watkins at the Curvy Girls Scoliosis third bi-annual convention in Long Island where girls ages 6-22 and their parents from around the world learned about new scoliosis developments and even modeled clothes they can easily wear over their braces.
“Brave girls like Melanie are wanting to share their stories and reach out to other girls and it’s inspiring to see how the organizations growing,” Mulvaney said.
Since the organization was founded in 2006, it has grown to to 83 groups in 12 countries. Watkins said being part of the group has allowed her to make new friends and support other girls who may not have the same confidence she had.
“It gave me a better outlook,” Watkins said. “If I never went to the group I would have started hating the brace more and maybe not felt as OK with it as I did.”
To learn more about Curvy Girls Scoliosis, go to www.curvygirlsscoliosis.com. To get involved with the local chapter, email cur vygirlsofsm@ gmail.com.
Melanie Watkins, left, leader of the Southern Maryland chapter of Curvy Girls Scoliosis, and Rachel Mulvaney, right, vice president of Curvy Girls, met at the organization’s convention in Long Island in June.
Participants at the Curvy Girls Scoliosis conference in June complete a weaving activity. The organization is an international support group for girls and young women with scoliosis.