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Stacy Lewis’s Scoliosis Story

Stacy Lewis – # 1 Women’s Golf

stacy lewis scoliosis

Stacy Lewis is an American professional golfer on the U.S. LPGA Tour who also suffers from scoliosis. Stacy’s scoliosis was discovered when she was 11 during a school screening exam. When she bent forward an asymmetry was discovered in her back. X-rays and an exam performed by a pediatric spine deformity specialist confirmed she had scoliosis. She was prescribed a scoliosis brace which she wore for roughly 18 hours a day (even while she slept) for 7 ½ years until she turned 18. Unfortunately, like most brace wearers, once out of the brace her curvature continued to progress to the point where surgery was recommended to prevent further progression.

Before the surgery recommendation, Stacy had accepted a scholarship to the University of Arkansas. After the Arkansas golf team coach told her they would hold her spot, Stacy went ahead with the surgery. Because Stacy was a golfer the surgeon performed a “muscle sparing surgery that addressed the deformity from the front of the spine and fused fewer levels of the lumbar spine”. A single rod and 5 screws were inserted into her spine.


stacy lewis scoliosis xray

The “Pre-Operation X-ray” shows that the curvature was not corrected with bracing. The “Post-Operation X-ray” shows the titanium rod and 5 screws that were implanted in her back.

** Please note the spine is not straightened after surgery. We strongly discourage most patients from surgery. Please see “Complications of Scoliosis Surgery” below.**

After her operation she was required to spend 3 more months in a brace and receive another 6 months of golf rehab. Stacy missed her first college golf season while recovering from the surgery. In 2004, Stacy regained her spot on the University of Arkansas golf team.

When she graduated in 2008, Stacy had 12 NCAA wins including the 2007 NCAA individual championship. In addition, while playing as an invited student during the inaugural LPGA NW Arkansas championship, Stacy “won” the tournament only to have it declared unofficial when they cancelled the rest of the event due to rain. After graduating, Stacy played in her final amateur event, the Curtis Cup at the Old Course in St. Andrews, Scotland. During that tournament Stacy helped the United States team win and set a record to become the first player in Curtis Cup history to record 5 wins against 0 losses.

In the summer of 2008, Stacy turned pro in time for the US Women’s Open and took the lead in the world’s most prestigious women’s tournament after 3 rounds. She  played in the final group in the final round before finishing in third place. In the winter of 2008, Stacy officially earned her LPGA “Tour Card” by winning the LPGA Qualifying Tournament by 3 strokes over the strongest Q-school field in LPGA history. In spring 2011, Stacy secured her position as one of the best golfers in the world by winning a major championship,  the Kraft Nabisco, and outplaying the #1 player in the world.

Today, Stacy plays a full schedule on the LPGA Tour. She regularly does stretches and strengthening exercises. She is a spokesperson for the Scoliosis Research Society and as such is an inspiration to kids around the world who are going through similar experiences with scoliosis.


Interview with Stacy Lewis

From the May/June issue of ESPNHS Magazine:

ESPNHS: How did you cope with having scoliosis as a teenager?

Lewis: It was really hard. My mom and I got into a lot of fights because I didn’t want to wear my brace. As a high school kid, you’re worried about what you look like, what your clothes are like and what people think of you. I didn’t want anybody to know about my brace, and I tried to hide it as best I could. Part of the reason I’m partnering with the Scoliosis Research Society is to create awareness so kids don’t feel so bad about it.

ESPNHS: What was it like wearing a back brace 18 hours a day for 6 1/2 years?

Lewis: It’s very uncomfortable. And in Texas especially it’s very hot, so the summers are brutal. I would itch, get bruises, sweat a lot. And I had to sleep in it. I turned to golf because that was time I could get out of my brace to practice.

ESPNHS: How did you overcome the disease to become a major champion?

Lewis: I think it created a lot of determination in me. When things get tough, that’s when I get better. Having to go through all I did with my back, I learned to deal with hard situations. And I think for golf that’s perfect, because it’s such a mental game that you have to be able to overcome bad holes and bad shots.

ESPNHS: What other lessons have you learned from your journey?

Lewis: I think the biggest thing is just to never give up. When somebody tells me it can’t be done, I say, “Watch me.” It’s made me who I am.

Complications of All Scoliosis Surgeries

From: The New York Times Health Guide

Complication rates are high with any of the procedures, including the standard Harrington method and the newer Cotrel-Dubousset procedure. A survey of fusion procedures done between 1993 and 2002 for idiopathic scoliosis found the complication rates were nearly 15% in children, and 25% in adults.

Complications for all procedures include allergic reactions to anesthesia and the following:

Bleeding. Standard procedures increase the risk for major blood loss during the procedure. Patients are encouraged to donate blood before the operation for use in possible transfusions. Children sometimes require more than one transfusion following surgery. Researchers are investigating various methods for reducing the need for transfusions, such as the use of preoperative erythropoietin (rhEPO), which increases production of red blood cells in the bone marrow.

Newer endoscopic techniques are reducing the need for transfusions.

Infection. Infection is always a risk with any operation. One study reported changes in the immune system for about 3 weeks after surgery, which indicated a greater risk for infection. Researchers recommended being very vigilant for signs of infection, including those in the pancreas and urinary tract. Doctors also recommend antibiotics, given by injection for 2 – 5 days after surgery and by mouth for 1 – 2 weeks longer.

Nerve Damage. Patients often worry about neurological injuries, but the risk is actually very low. In general, nerve injury occurs in 1% of patients, with the risk highest in adults. If neurological damage occurs, it most often causes muscle weakness. Paralysis is very rare and can be prevented using monitoring techniques during the operation. Nearly all monitoring procedures use a so-called wake-up test, in which the patient is brought out of anesthesia during or at the end of the procedure and assessed for sensations to be sure no injury has occurred. One simple method is to wake patients up in the middle of their operations and ask them to wiggle their toes. More sophisticated methods measure the electrical activity of the spinal cord; if the monitor indicates a fall in electrical response and possible injury, the surgeon makes adjustments to avoid further damage to the spinal cord.

Pseudoarthrosis. If the fusion fails to heal, pseudoarthrosis, a painful condition in which a false joint develops at the site, may develop. In one study, teenagers who smoked and heavier adolescents (over 154 pounds) who had hyperkyphosis (hunchback) were at higher risk for this complication. The anterior approach may pose a higher risk for pseudoarthrosis. One study reported that pseudoarthrosis may be undiagnosed, and rates may average 20% after surgery, therefore acting as a major contributor to post-surgery pain.

Disk Degeneration and Low Back Pain. Fusion in the lumbar area produces great stress on the lower back and eventually can cause disk degeneration. Loss of trunk mobility, balance, and muscle strength from surgical treatments can also cause lower back pain and chronic problems in future years. Patients who are surgically treated with fusion techniques lose flexibility; their back muscles may be weakened if they were injured during surgery. In most cases, however, the consequences are mild to moderate.

Lung Function. Some patients may develop serious lung problems after surgery. These complications are highest in children whose scoliosis is due to neuromuscular problems, such as spina bifida, cerebral palsy, or muscular dystrophy. Lung problems can develop up to 1 week after surgery. Lung function may not become completely normal until 1 – 2 months after surgery.

Other Complications. Other problems can include, but are not limited to, the following:

  • Hooks dislodging or a fused vertebra fracturing
  • Gallstones
  • Pancreatitis (inflammation of the pancreas). Among adolescents, this complication tends to occur more often among those who are older or who have a lower body mass index.
  • Intestinal obstruction

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