Thirteen-year-old Tamsin Clark has a lot on her plate.
She is a seventh-grader at Fowler School where she plays goalie for the soccer team. She plays clarinet, hangs out with friends, does homework, and, as if that weren’t enough, she spends several hours a week doing physical therapy to help strengthen her back.
When Tamsin was 11, she was diagnosed with scoliosis and is currently undergoing treatment at Emerson Hospital, where she was recently featured in the hospital’s marketing magazine.
Tamsin was diagnosed by her pediatrician and referred to a specialist. Scoliosis is a sideways curvature of the spine that typically occurs just before puberty, and about two years after her diagnosis, Tamsin’s curve had progressed to the point that a brace was necessary. Amy Gay, Tamsin’s mother, said the doctor told them there was little chance of improving the curve and a 30 percent chance it would get worse, which could mean back surgery for Tamsin.
Gay didn’t like those odds. Sciolisis most often occurs in girls who are tall and thin, which describes Tamsin. In addition, Gay’s mother-in-law, Tamsin’s grandmother, was diagnosed with scoliosis when it was too late for treatment. Left untreated, scoliosis can result in compromised cardiac and pulmonary function, said Gay.
″[Tamsin] had every risk factor,” said Gay, “and I wanted something more.”
Gay began researching other therapies, but it wasn’t until Tamsin broke her arm and they met Dr. John Cahoy, a pediatric orthopedic surgeon at Emerson Hospital that things began to turn in their favor.
Cahoy introduced them to the Schroth Method for scholiosis, which, while not widely accepted in the United States, has been successful for two decades in Europe. Cahoy told them he believed the new treatment could actually reverse the curvature.
Tamsin was fitted with a special brace, which she wears for more than 20 hours a day. She also does several hours of physical therapy every week to strengthen the muscles around her spine. In just a few months, her curve has decreased.
Tamsin takes it all in stride – even to wearing the brace outside her clothes, rather than trying to hide it.
“It’s just a hassle to wear it inside,” she said. “When people wear it on the inside they are afraid that people are going to judge them, but I don’t really care what people think.”
At first, she said, some people stared or looked away. Now, they are used to it. If people ask, she is pretty open to explaining why she wears it.
“Everyone is pretty accepting about it; they don’t really judge,” Tamsin said.
Tamsin will have to wear the brace until she stops growing, which she expects could be up to three years.
“Only about 3 percent of the population has scoliosis,” said Gay, “and only about 1 percent is braced.”
Emerson has established the first integrated scoliosis program in the region. The program provides oversight by a pediatric orthopedic surgeon, physical therapy with someone certified in the Schroth Method and an experienced orthotist who fits patients with a brace. All three doctors see patients in the same building in Westford.
Tamsin also attends a local chapter of Curvy Girls, a peer support group for teens diagnosed with scoliosis.
“I just like having someone who understands what I’m going through,” said Tamsin. “I have some pretty supportive friends but none of them really understand what it’s like.”
Gay is proud of the way her daughter is handling the diagnosis.
“It’s hard when you’re a kid to be diagnosed with anything,” she said. “It’s hard being a kid and hard being 13, and then having any challenge that is so physical. So on the one hand she makes it look really easy, but on the other hand it’s not easy.”
For information visit emersonhospital.org/scoliosis. For information about Curvy Girls visit curvygirlsscoliosis.com.