Scoliosis patient breathes easier

Angela Winkler with husband and four children at a wedding: “I was pain free and danced the night away,” she said.

Angela Winkler with her husband and children at a wedding: “I was pain free and danced the night away,” she said.

For many elementary students, annual school health screenings are part of the normal routine: hearing, vision, lice, and checking for spine problems. For some, the results of the school screenings would expose nothing out of the ordinary; for others, it would reveal hidden problems or warning signs.

One year, Angela Winkler’s screening revealed her scoliosis, or a curvature of the spine. Scoliosis, often developing in young children, can result in a number of debilitating medical conditions if given the chance to worsen. Winkler said she thought very little of the diagnosis and continued living her life normally.

“I was told as a teenager my scoliosis was mild and the curvature would never increase after I stopped growing,” Winkler said. “I also believed the only reason to have surgery would be for cosmetic reasons, not medical.”

But as Winkler grew older, her scoliosis did cause problems, but it wasn’t until the pain went from mild to severe that it took a heavy toll on her. As a mother of four, Winkler needed to keep up with her kids but she couldn’t due to the side effects of the scoliosis, which eventually affected her lung capacity and her ability to breathe normally.

Scoliosis in her lumbar vertebrae was rubbing the nerve that stretches down her left leg, causing hip pain and producing foot drop, a weakening of the muscles that allow the ankles and toes to flex that causes the foot to drag when walking. As a result, Winkler couldn’t walk far or stand long before needing to take the weight off of her leg.

“Sitting was very uncomfortable because my ribs and my hip bone would touch and my torso felt squished. It was difficult to take a deep breath,” Winkler said.

After deciding to have corrective surgery, Winkler was referred to Keith Bridwell, MD, Washington University orthopedic surgeon at Barnes-Jewish Hospital. Dr. Bridwell treats patients with spinal deformities and disorders, and is one of the top-rated orthopedic surgeons in the United States.

“It is unusual for a young adult to have such a rapidly progressing degenerative deformity,” Dr. Bridwell said. “Because of this, she underwent a complex posterior spinal fusion surgery.”

Before this surgery, Bridwell had to free the nerve of Winkler’s left leg to improve her chances of avoiding permanent nerve damage. Without surgery, the scoliosis would have progressed and Winkler could have lost the use of her leg.

After her surgery, Winkler’s leg and back pain subsided, and she was able to walk without discomfort. She started coaching her son’s basketball team, teaching Sunday school and volunteering in her free time.

“I owe my life, as an active mom of four, to Dr. Bridwell and his spinal team,” Winkler said. “I could never go back to where I was two years ago now that I am where I am today.”

To schedule an appointment with a spine physician, call (855) 925-0631 or learn your treatment options for spinal disorders.

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Category: Orthopedics

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Barnes-Jewish Hospital at Washington University Medical Center is the largest hospital in Missouri and the largest private employer in the St. Louis region. An affiliated teaching hospital of Washington University School of Medicine, Barnes-Jewish Hospital has a 1,800 member medical staff with many who are recognized as "Best Doctors in America." They are supported by residents, interns and fellows, in addition to nurses, technicians and other health-care professionals.

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