Former scoliosis patients have credited hospital teams for putting their lives ‘back’ on track.
Samantha Heeney, Hannah Wintle, Ellie Boyd and Ciaran Butterworth all underwent major scoliosis surgery as teenagers to straighten their backs and have gone on to live life to the full, embarking on exciting careers as a nurse, flight attendant, solicitor and teacher.
To celebrate their inspirational journeys, they joined other scoliosis patients at a “Back Together Again” event at The James Cook University Hospital where they were reunited with the staff from the children and young people’s spinal unit which treated them.
“The care I received motivated me to become a nurse”
Samantha Heeney was 15 years old when her mum realised there was something unnatural about her back. Her shoulders were uneven, and she was in agony with constant backaches – later she was found to have scoliosis.
Samantha underwent scoliosis surgery in 2017 at James Cook.
“I was almost lost,” she said. “But the ward team put me back on my path; they truly are inspirational.”
The care and compassion she received during her hospital stay encouraged the 23-year-old to pursue a career as a nurse.
Samantha added: “To be a part of the same surgery that I underwent was strange but made me realise the significance of our expert staff and skilful surgeons.”
The Leyburn native is completing her final placement as a student nurse in the paediatric A&E at Royal London Hospital before qualifying and starting as a staff nurse at Great Ormond Street Hospital for Children – ready to proudly return the care she received back to the community.
“I wouldn’t be here without the surgery”
Hannah Wintle, 24, from Darlington, is currently travelling around the world as a flight attendant and serving her passengers with a big smile on her face.
However, this was not always the case for Hannah. At the age of 15, she was referred to James Cook for treatment for scoliosis.
She said: “With the surgery, I knew I was in very capable hands and would be cared for whatever happens.
The PICU (paediatric intensive care unit) staff reassured me every single day that they were there for me. They understood I was very nervous with everything, and they never forced me to do anything that I was not comfortable with.”
After undergoing spinal injury surgery in 2014, Hannah decided to give something back to the unit that looked after her through a series of fundraising activities.
She added: “This fundraising, which was possible thanks to the support from my grandad and my mum, was my way of giving back to the team that cared for me with such compassion and love.
“Without this surgery, I wouldn’t be here.”
“For how it’s changed my life, I will do it again tomorrow”
Ellie Boyd from Stockton is always in and out of court as a criminal defence solicitor.
She is beaming with confidence to defend those who have been wronged and bring them justice.
But the 25-year-old was quite different as a child, before her scoliosis surgery.
She said: “Growing up, I was conscious about my body and very sensitive about my appearance. The scoliosis diagnosis meant my body shape was different from the rest of my peers and this had a huge impact on my mental health.
I just wanted to look normal, just like the rest of my friends. The physical pain from scoliosis was peanuts when compared to the negative impact it had on my mental health.”
Looking back on her time at James Cook, she said: “From start to finish, every part of my hospital journey has been amazing. The staff here not only helped me to straighten my back but enabled me to regain my confidence.
“The surgery shaped me into a confident woman, and for how it’s changed my life, I would do it again tomorrow.”
“It gave me my life back”
Ciaran Butterworth was diagnosed with scoliosis at 15 years of age.
Following her operation in 2011, the hospital team successfully managed to straighten her back and enabled her to live her life to its fullest again. She said:
Right from the dinner lady to the surgeon, every member of the team was incredible. I am fortunate for the compassionate team who supported me during this daunting period, and I couldn’t have asked for more.”
Ciaran, who now works as a primary school teacher at St Joseph’s School in Norton, said: “It gave me my life back.”
Specialist nurse for paediatric spine Cheryl Honeyman has been with each one of them right from the time they stepped into the hospital till they were discharged.
She said: “It was lovely to see everyone and to hear how well they are doing. We are lucky to have such a great team guiding patients through their scoliosis journey at South Tees, and to hear how much everyone appreciates our efforts.
“Their stories are inspiring and will further motivate us all to continue providing an excellent service for all our paediatric spine patients.”
Consultant spinal surgeon Prasad Karpe added: “Paediatric spinal deformity correction is one of the most challenging surgeries, working on growing bones and around the spinal cord. Addressing spinal issues early can significantly improve the quality of life.”