At 11 years old Audrey Symmes was diagnosed with scoliosis after she had a forward bend test done while at school. She was sent to a specialist who had her wear a back brace for one year; but after the year was over she did not seek any further treatment.
“It turned out that I had a pretty decent S-curve with the lower curve being the worse of the two; however, my scoliosis was not causing me any pain and we had heard terrible things about corrective surgery,” said Audrey. “My only real issue with my scoliosis at the time was the physical appearance of my back.”
Audrey learned to hide the appearance of her back by wearing certain types of clothes. But, after high school passed, she started to have back pain from her scoliosis and the pain continued all the way through college.
“My back pain got so bad that I could not stand up for more than five minutes without being in so much pain that I was almost in tears,” said Audrey. “There were many times that I would have my husband push both my sides in as hard as he could to help hold me up. That way he could support me since my spine didn’t provide me any support.”
Occasionally, Audrey would wear a soft back brace but that only helped so much. She was unable to exercise and would have to lay down immediately following her work day. Anything that required standing in line was out of the question for Audrey. Something as simple as going to the grocery became a major challenge for her.
“I tried going to a chiropractor or a masseuse but neither one helped me,” said Audrey. “The last straw was when I started to have nerve pain down my leg.”
The pain was being caused by her spine pushing down on her nerve due to the S-curve of her back. At 22 years old because of the pain and hopeful that it wasn’t something she would have to deal with the rest of her life, Audrey decided to visit her family doctor who then referred her to Dr. David Schwartz an OrthoIndy spine surgeon.
Dr. Schwartz took X-rays of Audrey’s spine and determined that her scoliosis had progressed even in the last couple of years. At that point there was no other option; Audrey would need to have a spinal fusion to correct her scoliosis.
“After I found out that I needed surgery Dr. Schwartz did everything possible to make me feel comfortable with the situation,” said Audrey. “He told me to take three months and think of any questions. Little did he know, I would come in with a typed sheet, front and back, full of questions. Dr. Schwartz took the time to answer every single one of them.”
The basic idea during a spinal fusion is to fuse together the painful vertebrae so that they heal into a single, solid bone; therefore, eliminating motion between the verterbrae. It also prevents the stretching of nerves and surrounding ligaments and muscles. A spinal fusion may take away some spinal flexibility, but most spinal fusions involve only small segments of the spine and do not limit motion very much.
“Surgery day finally came and I was so nervous,” said Audrey. “Upon arrival to IOH, we were greeted by a kind lady at the front desk. Seeing how nice she was helped to calm my nerves right away. My husband and I were taken back to the surgery prep room and all of the doctors and nurses came in to introduce themselves.”
During Audrey’s seven hour surgery her family was given a tour of IOH so they knew where they were going and were updated on how everything was going during the operation.
“The thing I liked most about IOH was the one-on-one attention I received from my doctor and nurses,” said Audrey. “I really felt like everybody cared about me as a friend, not just a patient. The nurses even celebrated all of my small victories during my recovery with my husband and I couldn’t have asked for a better team to take care of me.”
After surgery, Audrey is now two and half inches taller and hardly has any curvature in her spine. The very next day after surgery she was able to walk and she has been improving every day since. The nerve pain in her leg has gone as well.
“My quality of life has improved greatly since my surgery,” said Audrey. “The recovery was so much easier than I ever thought it would be. I very rarely experience any back pain.”
Audrey is now able to swim, zumba, work and simply stand without pain. Over the summer she went to several concerts and was able to stand the entire time. She even went on a trip to Washington D.C. and was able to walk around all day for a couple of days without any pain.
“I am so happy that I had the surgery and I am so thankful that Dr. Schwartz and the rest of the IOH team were able to help me,” said Audrey. “My back doesn’t hold me up anymore and I am so happy to have my life back.”
“My scar means…I can finally enjoy life.” Audrey Symmes
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