Spine Surgery to Repair Severe Scoliosis Saves Girl’s Life

Salma Suleman Post-Op Scoliosis

Doctors at an Indianapolis hospital recently performed life-saving spine surgery on a young patient with a severe scoliosis. The NuVasive Spine Foundation in San Diego brought Salma Suleman, 12, to the United States from Kenya so she could undergo the surgery at the Peyton Manning’s Children’s Hospital at St. Vincent. It was a charitable surgery the hospital offered to perform for a little girl who desperately needed it.

Scoliosis is a condition in which the spine is curved abnormally. It usually occurs during a child’s growth spurt before puberty. Muscular dystrophy and cerebral palsy can also cause scoliosis, but most times there is no known cause. Most cases are mild, but some children, like Salma, develop severe cases that can become disabling and life-threatening as the child gets older. Salma’s scoliosis made it difficult for her to walk more than 10 feet at a time. The severe curvature of her spine threatened to crush her heart and lungs.

Salma Suleman Pre-Op Scoliosis

“Her curve was so severe, when you looked at her from behind, her shoulder blade was actually touching her hip,” said surgeon Dr. David Schwartz with OrthoIndy. Schwartz said that Salma’s case was the worst he’d seen in his 17 years of practice.

“We operate on children when their curves are 45 or 50 degrees. We put them in braces when they’re 25 or 30 degrees,” he said. “She’s 12 years old, and her curve was 170 degrees.”

an image of Salma's spine before surgery

The risky procedure to realign her spine took 12 hours. But within three weeks, Salma was able to stand upright, lift her arms and walk without pain. She now has a new outlook on life, thanks to Dr. Schwartz.

“I feel happy,” she said. “I was losing my hope, but he’s brought my hope back.”

On her release from the hospital, Salma will stay in San Diego for a month while she undergoes rehab. Then she will return home to Nairobi, Kenya, where Dr. Schwartz plans to visit her. Salma now hopes to be a surgeon someday so she can help children the way Dr. Schwartz helped her.


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