Scoliosis Surgery Frees Teen From a Life of Pain   

Scoliosis Surgery Frees Teen From a Life of Pain

Crystal Chiluiza

March 16, 2022

At age 16, Crystal Chiluiza has learned how to savor the simple things in life: playing with her young niece, Scarlett, spending time with friends, and having the ability to merely sit still. Until recently, she couldn’t remember a time when scoliosis didn’t cause her constant pain.  

“I was always in pain, whether it was excruciating pain or less than that,” Crystal says. “It didn't matter if I was sitting or standing, in the middle of class or just hanging out with my friends. It would happen all day, every day.”

That’s all changed, thanks to life-changing scoliosis surgery at Joseph M. Sanzari Children’s Hospital at Hackensack University Medical Center.

New Options for Children With Scoliosis

Often diagnosed during adolescence, scoliosis is characterized by a sideways curvature of the spine, which causes pain and disability. It can affect the body’s appearance as it causes the ribs, hips and shoulders to shift unevenly.

As Crystal’s scoliosis worsened over the years, Ruby Chiluiza felt the pain of a mother. “Crystal wanted to be comfortable physically but also comfortable with the way she looked,” she says. Looking for options, they found pediatric orthopedic surgeon Amit Merchant, D.O.

For a growing child with scoliosis, nonsurgical options like bracing and physical therapy are exhausted first. When Dr. Merchant saw Chiluiza for the first time at age 14, though, her curve had worsened to the point of needing posterior spinal fusion surgery to straighten her spine.

“The goal of surgery was to preserve Crystal’s mobility and quality of life, without worrying about the lifelong consequences of progressive scoliosis,” says Dr. Merchant. If Crystal didn’t have the procedure, her curve would have worsened and eventually affect her heart and lungs.

Spinal fusion is generally reserved for adolescents with severe scoliosis; this approach isn’t feasible for younger children with failed bracing. With traditional scoliosis surgery, patients undergo an initial implantation of screws and rods. Because young patients are growing, this surgery is followed by multiple surgeries about every six months to “grow” the rods during a procedure called distraction.

But an innovative technology called the MAGEC system allows surgeons to better control scoliosis in children. The technology allows the­­­ spine to continue growing with the child. The magnetic rods are distracted during an office visit, which means fewer surgeries. “Treatment for scoliosis is evolving in such a rapid way that new options are becoming available where we can improve scoliosis with less-invasive surgeries and faster recovery while preserving as much spinal motion as possible,” says Dr. Merchant.

Pain-free and Happy

Crystal’s surgery went well, and Dr. Merchant doesn’t expect her to need additional ones.

“I know that I speak for both of us when I say that we are not just happy but super happy," says mom Ruby. "Dr. Merchant is an angel that was sent to us.”

Despite being fearful prior to surgery, Crystal says she would recommend the procedure to anyone looking for relief from endless back pain and disfigurement. “The way I coped was to tell myself that if I had the surgery, all that was bad about this situation would go away,” she says. And it did. “I'm pain-free and happy with the way I look.”

Next Steps & Resources:

The material provided through HealthU is intended to be used as general information only and should not replace the advice of your physician. Always consult your physician for individual care.

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