20/01/2012 12:10 GMT | Updated 22/05/2015 10:12 BST

Riding High: The Teenager With Worst Case Of Spine Curvature Docs Had Ever Seen Is Cured

Metal rods straighten teen's curved spine, the worst case of scoliosis docs had ever seen Worldwide Features

When doctors X-rayed 16-year-old Laura Fitzwalter's back, they found she had the biggest curved spine that they had ever seen.

Her spine was bent so severely at 180 degrees that if she didn't have an operation to straight it, it would have killed her.

She has undergone a risky operation where doctors used metal rods to straighten her spine - and amazingly she is now 11 cms TALLER than she was before the operation!

She has made a full recovery and can now ride her horse, Sparky.

Her mother Tracy Fitzwalter, a pre school assistant, says: "We were shocked when we saw how curved Laura's spine was.

"The surgeon said it was the biggest curve he had ever seen. It was devastating to hear it would have killed her as it was crushing her heart and lungs. Now she has had the operation and luckily she has made a full recovery. The operation risked paralysing her, but we had no choice. She had to have the operation to survive."

x-rays show Laura Fitzwalter's curved spine Worldwide Features

Laura's brother Adam, 19, first noticed there was a problem with Laura's back when the family were on holiday in April 2008.

Tracy, who lives with husband Neil, a sales director, in Bournemouth, says: "Adam noticed that Laura's shoulder blade seemed to be sticking out more on the right side.


We had never noticed it before, but it was really quite pronounced, and noticeable when she was wearing a strappy summer top. She wasn't in any pain, but I was worried about it.


Tracy took her daughter to the GP as soon as she returned home and he diagnosed her with scoliosis, a curvature of the spine.

Scoliosis affects three or four out of every thousand children in the UK and can develop at any time in childhood or adolescence. Most cases correct themselves naturally, but occasionally it can require surgery to straighten the spine.

Laura Fitzwalter and mum Tracy after Laura's back operation Worldwide Features

Laura, 16, was referred to a surgeon at Poole General Hospital who took X-rays and said it was the biggest curvature of the spine he had ever seen.

The family were then told some devastating news. If Laura's spine was not operated on, it would kill her. The spine was so curved that it was crushing her vital organs, such as her heart and liver.

"When we heard the news, we were absolutely devastated. At the time, Laura wasn't in any pain and yet we were being told that her life was in danger," explains Tracy.
"If her spine was left to carry on curving, then it would kill her. Laura was absolutely terrified."

The couple were told that surgeons needed to fix metal rods either side of Laura's spine to straighten it. It was such a risky operation that she risked being paralysed, but the family had no choice but to agree to the operation:


It was awful to hear what the risks were. The surgeon told us it was the equivalent to open heart surgery. And she could end up paralysed. But we didn't have a choice. She had to have the operation to survive.


Laura had the operation in July 2010 at Southampton General Hospital. The surgery took 10 hours and surgeons fixed metal rods either side of her spine to straighten it.

Laura Fitzwalter can now ride her horse again after her back operation to straighten her spine Worldwide Features

"It was the longest ten hours of our life, waiting for the operation to finish," says Tracy.

"She had been so frightened when she was wheeled down for surgery. She hates even the sight of a needle. But she was so brave.

"Her spine was curving right up to the operation. When she had the first X-ray it had shown a 120 degree curve. By the time she was taken for surgery, that curve had increased to a massive 180 degrees.

"When she came back up afterwards it was such a relief to see her. She was covered in tubes and wires, but the surgery had thankfully been a success."

It has taken Laura a year to recover, but now she is finally standing straight. And amazingly after the operation she is now 11 cms taller than she was before the operation.

"We couldn't believe it afterwards when she came home taller than she had been before," says Tracy.

"She had to buy a whole new wardrobe of clothes because nothing fitted her any more. But it has now given her so much more confidence. She's standing straight and taller and it has given her a new lease of life.

Laura Fitzwalter, mum Tracey and dad Adam after her back operation to straighten her spine Worldwide Features

"And she loves riding her horse Sparky again, she sits much straighter in the saddle now."

Laura will have to have a yearly check up, but she isn't expected to need any more surgery:


Its amazing to see how well Laura is doing now. It was a risky operation, but it has all been worth it.


A spokeswoman for the Scoliosis SOS clinic, which specialises in treating the condition, said: "We have never heard of a case of anyone who has a spine with a bigger curve than this. She has been very lucky."

What a amazing story.
Good luck with your recovery, Laura!