www.cambridge-news.co.uk Saturday, January 23, 2010
BACK AT MY BEST!
Facing a life of pain or potentially dangerous surgery to correct a spinal condition, Cambridge medical student Jessica turned sleuth to research her own solution – with remarkable results
Real Life EXCLUSIVE
By Louise Martin – Feature writer
ENJOYING a summer holiday with her family, Jessica Wong didn’t have a care in the world. Having just completed her GCSEs, and looking forward to starting her A-levels that September, Jessica’s life changed suddenly when, during a day on the beach, her mum noticed something was wrong with her back.
“I was in my bikini, so it was probably quite visible then,” explains the 19-year-old Cambridge student. “Apparently, it’s quite a classic story about how scoliosis is noticed, because when people have their clothes on you don’t notice it too much.”
What her mum had noticed was that Jessica’s back wasn’t straight – in fact it was curving at an alarming angle.
Once back in the UK, and with her mum for support, Jessica went to her GP who diagnosed Scoliosis: a back condition that causes the spine to curve to the left or right. It affects more than four per cent of the population.
“Once I started looking I did notice the curve in my spine more and more, especially when I looked at photos and in the mirror,” remembers Jessica. “I avoided wearing certain types of clothes that showed it off.”
Referred to an orthopaedic surgeon to confirm the diagnosis, Jessica was dealt the devastating news that Scoliosis is incurable. The only treatment available to correct the spine is a major operation involving metal robs being permanently inserted under the skin either side of the spine, before the spine is fused solid – an operation which carries the risk of paralysis.
“I was told that because there is no cure I just had to observe my spine to see if it got any worse – generally, just live with it,” says Jessica. “The operation wasn’t offered to me, but it was never something we were considering or wanted.”
Disappointed with the consultation, Jessica threw herself into her studies in her home town of Chichester, with her increasingly curving spine and recurring back pain as constant reminders of her Scoliosis.
“I searched Scoliosis a lot on the internet, where there are lots of horror stories. It didn’t really help, it just panicked me,” explains Jessica.
“I was definitely unhappy living with Scoliosis then, generally because I felt I was quite young to be feeling like I did.
“I didn’t notice it every minute of every day but in my Saturday job, which was at a pharmacy, I would feel very achy at the end of my shift from standing up all day and just being generally uncomfortable with backache.
“I was always thinking about the Scoliosis and that I was going to live like this for the rest of my life, with aches and pains. I thought, if I’ve got backache now, what will it be like when I’m older?”
Managing to cope with the pain during her A-levels, Jessica didn’t let the condition affect her studies and, in 2008, was delighted to get the grades required to study medicine at Cambridge.
However, at the start of her first year in the city, Jessica began to experience excruciating back pain and returned to a website, Scoliosis SOS, for help.
“My back was getting worse and I wanted to do something about it,” remembers Jessica.
After discussing Scoliosis SOS with her parents, Jessica went to the Suffolk-based clinic for a consultation and to discuss attending a four-week treatment course.
Founded and run by Erika Maude, who has Scoliosis herself, the clinic opened three years ago and is the only one in the world to offer treatment following the non-invasive ScolioGold method, which uses a combination of non-surgical treatments.
Originally writing the treatment off when she was 16 due to its price (about £3,000 for the four-week course), and because it was not a guaranteed cure, Jessica and her parents now felt it was her only option.
Now living relatively pain free, Jessica’s back continues to improve following the course thanks to her daily exercise routine. “I get quite a nice feeling from the exercises, it’s like a big stretch in my back,” she smiles.
“I have to put the effort in to make sure I do them. There are some days when I actually can’t do them because I’m too busy, or I’ve gone away for the weekend, but generally I do it every day. Some days I’d rather not, but I make myself.”
Sitting with perfect posture, which Jessica tells me requires a lot of concentration, it is impossible to tell that Jessica suffers from Scoliosis.
“A lot of my friends don’t really believe that I have a spinal problem because you can’t see it, but they would know if I’m suffering a bit or if I’ve pushed myself too far as I’ll be a bit grumpy,” laughs Jessica.
Despite being able to manage her Scoliosis through exercise, Jessica admits that it’s frustrating not knowing what caused her spine to curve in the first place.