A Teenage Girl's Journey with Scoliosis

Updated: Sep 14, 2021

Gia Deluisi, a 15-year-old girl from Philadelphia, didn't know that a curve in her back would change her life just at 12 years old. Gia was in seventh grade when she first started getting symptoms of back pain. She saw a bump that startled her mother, Angelique Dunphy.

"I noticed Gia had a sports bra on one day ... she usually wore t-shirts, and I noticed she was leaning to one side. We went to the doctor that week, and he ordered an x-ray. The next day she was diagnosed with scoliosis of a 32-degree curve," says Angelique.

When I asked Gia what emotions she felt when discovering she was diagnosed with scoliosis, Gia explained that she felt anxious and scared. Gia mentions how she did not understand what was going to happen to her. She did not know what scoliosis was just quite yet. Her mother Angelique explained that Gia has Idiopathic Scoliosis, which means the cause is unknown.

"Her height started to grow fast. Scoliosis usually occurs during a growth spurt," states Angelique.

Gia's curve was first at 32 degrees, then quickly went to 40. It resulted in Gia getting a brace to slow down the curve but not necessarily stop it. Gia explained that once the curve in her back grew over time, it made her feel insecure.

"If I wore a tank top or bathing suit, I would feel self-conscious, but then I realized that it isn't my fault, and I shouldn't care what people think," says Gia.

I asked her mother, Angelique Dunphy, a series of questions in regards to Gia's condition.

Were you familiar with scoliosis before Gia was diagnosed with it?

I was only familiar because I'm a nurse, and my sister Harley's best friend Brandi has scoliosis and went through all of this.

Gia plays sports. Has scoliosis affected her life in that way?

Gia plays soccer. She always has, she's aggressive on the field and is never afraid. She was unable to catch up with the girls. Gia was short of breath and her coaches noticed it. She needed to do something about it. She wanted to play again. Her amazing surgeon said no contact sports for 6 months. She will be back, stronger than ever.

I know family history can play a role in Scoliosis. Do any of her relatives have it, that you know of?

I did not know of anyone until recently in December. I hurt my back running. I had an x-ray and the Ortho doctor told me I had scoliosis as well. I never knew it.

How did having scoliosis affect Gia physically?

She physically started to become short of breath and had a lot of lower back pain. She was not only crooked, but rotated to 60-70 degrees. This means her ribs on the left were sticking out for her. She couldn't sit long. She was very uncomfortable all of the time.

Do you believe this condition has had a mental toll on Gia? Could you explain more about that?

I do believe this has affected her mentally. It has been 3 years. There has been bullying, to a point where I had to get involved. Coming from a family of seven children and believing kids need to figure some things out on their own, it's something I especially don't like to do. Also, as a teenage girl who is already self conscious and insecure, having a crooked back did not help Gia mentally. I feel like her physical pain caused her to start feeling depressed.

Gia's brace molded for her consisted of hard plastic. "It was expensive and extremely uncomfortable for her," says Angelique. Although it was uncomfortable, Gia added that it helped. However, being busy with school and sports led her to not wearing the brace as much as she should have.

"I stopped wearing it, and my curve got worse," says Gia.

It meant that Gia needed surgery. Yesterday, the day had come. She arrived at The Children's Hospital of Philadelphia around 5:45 AM.

Gia's surgery started around 9 a.m. and was five hours long. I am one of Gia's aunts and stayed with her mother, Angelique, the entire surgery until Gia was in recovery. Her surgeon was David A. Spiegel, MD. He was very friendly and talked to Gia along with her mother before surgery and after.

Angelique mentions that her doctor, Dr. Spiegel, and his team at CHOP have taken care of her since the beginning.

"Surgery was the last resort, but he worked his wonders, and she is on the road to recovery. The nurses, PT, OT, are fabulous and Gia is making amazing progress already. Her surgery went very well. The doctors at CHOP did an amazing job," says Angelique.

She's one day post surgery and you've been by her side ever since. How are you feeling?

I'm feeling good! I'm huge on being strong and pushing on. But, when she feels the pain I want to take it on for her. I could use a nap. But, when it's your child, not much else matters except getting them better.

What has the entire journey been like for you as her mother?

Of course at first, as a mother I felt guilt. What I didn't do right, what I could've done differently. It was sort of just like - let's figure this out. Setting doctor appointments, getting her to all of them, insurance, doctor bills, fights about the brace. You just want your child to be happy, live well, and live life to the fullest. As a mother, you will do anything. Anything.

Do you think there’s a negative stigma of Scoliosis in today’s society? If so, do you think we should challenge it?

I don't think there's a negative stigma, I think it's just not well known or studied. The negative connotation is that people ask why you didn't notice it or ask how you didn't see it. It's something that can happen quickly. You aren't even followed by an orthopedic doctor at a 25 degree curve. So, even if she had it, they don't monitor it until it gets worse. I think people should stop and think before they say things. But, hey ... I let it roll off and move on.

While in recovery, Gia exclaimed her excitement for life after surgery, especially for this upcoming summer. Gia's looking forward to trying on bathing suits. She also discovered that she grew a couple of inches in height.

"I hope to get a tattoo one day to cover the scar on my back," says Gia.

Her mother, Angelique, explained that her family understands Gia's condition and that Gia is very funny about it.

"You have to be. In our family, we make jokes about everything. You learn to have thick skin and laugh. It helps that her whole family has been her support," says Anqelique.

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