By Stephanie Turner email@example.com Jun 25, 2017 Updated 23 hrs ago
When Leah Stoltz, 24, was diagnosed with scoliosis, she was in middle school and said she felt alone.
In order to connect with others in her situation, the New Yorker began a support group.
What started as a meeting with four girls in 2006 has exploded to an organization with chapters across the world. That organization is known as Curvy Girls and is based in Long Island.
In addition to chapters around the United States, there has been groups in Canada, Brazil, Australia, Mexico, Turkey, Spain and Kenya. Elisabeth Harkins, 18, of North Augusta, began the Curvy Girls Ga/SC-Scoliosis Support Group in 2011 and still serves as its leader.
June is National Scoliosis Awareness Month.
More about scoliosis
Scoliosis is a condition in which the spine curves to the side; it affects millions of people in America alone, according to the American Association of Neurological Surgeons.
The onset of the condition usually happens between the ages of 10 and 15.
Abigail Mullins, an 18-year-old from Grovetown, was 14 when she was diagnosed.
“I went into the doctor thinking I had a pulled muscle, which turned out to be the day I got diagnosed with adolescent idiopathic scoliosis,” she said.
Stoltz was diagnosed with the same condition.
Both women wore back braces at first but inevitably needed surgery.
“I tried a hard cast brace for almost a year back when I first got diagnosed, but then we found out that the brace wasn’t going to do much because my body was almost done growing. So I tried to wait it out to see if my curve would stop increasing. By my senior year, my curve had gotten … bad,” Mullins said.
Mullins’ operation occurred in December. Two rods and 17 screws were put into her spine.
“(They are) not only holding it straight but keeping it together to where it doesn’t start to curve again. … I was left with barely a scar,” Mullins said. “The surgery has helped me in so many ways. My clothes finally fit correctly because my hips and shoulders are aligned now. I can stand for longer periods of time without the back pain forcing me to sit down. The surgery has made certain pains stop like in my lower back and neck. On rough days, living with scoliosis even made it painful to breathe because my rib cage was shifting so much.”
Stoltz would try to avoid wearing her brace by hiding it in her locker, according to the Curvy Girls’ website. Her surgery happened in 2006. She had two titanium rods and 22 screws placed in her spine.
“My biggest concern was that I wouldn’t be able to dance for a year,” Stoltz said on the Curvy Girls’ website.
Years have past since her operation, and Stoltz said she is still able to go about her regular activities.
“I live a very, very normal life. It’s sometimes funny for me to remember that other people can bend their back even though I can’t. … I still do everything. I play golf. I dance. … I go to the gym. I work out. I just have really good posture,” Stoltz said, in a lighthearted manner.
More about Curvy Girls
While Stoltz has survived her adolescence with scoliosis, she knows that girls around the world still struggle with their own experiences with the condition.
“The No. 1 thing I’ve heard from everybody is that, when they are diagnosed, they feel so alone, Stoltz said. “It’s really hard to find someone else with it. It’s not very visible on most people, so people feel very alone, and that’s exactly how I felt. I felt very alone when I was wearing my brace and didn’t have anyone to talk to, so a lot of times, the first time that a girl will come to the meeting, is the very first time that they are meeting anybody else that has scoliosis. So it’s just this feeling about not being alone anymore.”
Stoltz won the Teen Nick HALO Award for starting the support group when she was a senior in high school. HALO stands for Helping and Leading Others.
The Curvy Girls founder acknowledged that the award boosted attention to the organization.
“It’s absolutely amazing. It’s so crazy to think about that it’s become such a huge thing, but I recognize that the reason it has taken a life of its own because of this pay-it-forward aspect,” Stoltz said.
Through her work with the local chapter, Harkins has seen the impact it has had on girls here.
“It has connected girls in different stages of scoliosis so they can learn from each other,” she said. “Some girls have gotten more confident and become better advocates. I think we have all learned that just because we have scoliosis doesn’t mean we can’t do things. We might just have to find a different way to do some things.”
Curvy Girls has members from ages 6 to 22, with the leaders being at least 11.
Harkins also has gotten proclamations passed the last few years, and this year is no exception.
The state proclamation from S.C. Gov. Henry McMaster’s office declares June as Scoliosis Awareness Month, while the City of North Augusta’s proclamation from Mayor Bob Pettit and North Augusta City Council proclaims the month as Scoliosis Early Detection Awareness Month.
For more information on Curvy Girls, visit www.curvygirlsscoliosis.com.
For more information on how to join Curvy Girls Ga/SC-Scoliosis Support Group, message Harkins or the group through Facebook, call 803-270-1182 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.