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Back in the Right Place: Treatment for Severe Scoliosis

“We came to know my scoliosis when I was three years old because I was walking at a right angle,” says Fatima Alo, who grew up in Bangladesh. “My parents took me to many hospitals for treatment and no one could help me.”

Fatima came to the United States with her mother at age 16. She had difficulty finding jobs because of the way she looked. And her back was getting much worse. “Breathing was so difficult,” says Fatima. “I would walk one block and have to stop. I had no hope.”

Two years later, Fatima met Oheneba Boachie-Adjei, MD, Chief Emeritus of Scoliosis at Hospital for Special Surgery. “I really got strength from him,” says Fatima. “While he was talking to me, I decided I had to do the surgery even at the risk of dying. If I didn’t do the surgery, I would be the same and die in a few years. I was willing to take the chance.”

“Scoliosis that appears before the age of five years has a very poor respiratory prognosis,” says Dr. Boachie. “Fatima had major restrictive lung disease and her spinal deformity was so severe that her risk of paralysis with the operation was near 50 percent. We had quite a long discussion regarding the operation that we had to do, and it was going to be very, very risky. She was very brave about it.”

Fatima’s surgical treatment was in two parts – separated by two months. In the first day-long procedure, Dr. Boachie needed to remove a whole section of the spine from the front through the chest. In the second procedure, Dr. Boachie reconstructed virtually her entire spine.

“Patients with severe restrictive lung disease and significant spinal deformities such as Fatima’s are often not considered surgical candidates,” notes Dr. Boachie. “However, with careful preoperative evaluation and the support of subspecialty services, surgery has successful outcomes. The key is the multidisciplinary approach. With Fatima, we had involvement by pulmonary, neurology, internal medicine, and anesthesia specialists. The coordination between disciplines makes the difference.”

“Dr. Boachie gave me a new life,” says Fatima. “I now work with the law firm of Simin H. Syed, PC. He made it possible for me to marry. He made me complete.”

Fatima Alo