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Tristen is Happier, Taller Following Scoliosis Correction Surgery

February 22, 2021

Nothing could have prepared Felicia and David for what they learned in 2019 about the curve in their daughter’s spine.

While the family had been monitoring the curve for a few years, a stomachache led to an X-ray, which revealed scoliosis. After coming to Ann & Robert H. Lurie Children’s Hospital of Chicago, Eric Fuller, MD, a pediatric orthopedic surgeon, identified a double major curve in 12-year-old Tristen’s spine, the largest of which measuring over 120 degrees. This was compressing on her lungs and heart. Without surgery, Tristen could develop congestive heart failure as soon as age 20.

“Tristen was so upset and cried for days,” Felicia recalled. “Dr. Fuller had us schedule an MRI and we also scheduled another appointment to get all of our questions answered before surgery. He was thorough and answered every question patiently and as honestly as he could.”

A 14-hour procedure

These scans show Tristen's spine before surgery, left, and after, right

Dr. Fuller specializes in spinal correction surgery for scoliosis and congenital spine deformities in Lurie Children’s nationally ranked Division of Orthopaedic Surgery. He scheduled Tristen’s spinal correction surgery for mid-December of 2019, just before her winter break from school began so the honors student would miss as little school as possible.

In the 14-hour procedure, called a posterior spinal fusion with instrumentation, Dr. Fuller straightened Tristen’s spine using custom-made implants that were specifically made to match the contours of her spine. This allowed a significant correction of her curve while preventing facial scars from halo-gravity traction, or the metal ring attached to the skull used preoperatively for some patients with severe scoliosis. After straightening Tristen’s spine, Dr. Fuller and his team fused bones in Tristen’s back to prevent the spine from curving again.

“Dr. Fuller came to see us after she was moved to recovery,” Felicia recalled. “He hugged me, and I thanked him for never leaving her side, for sticking it out ‘til the end and for his dedication to completion. He is an amazing surgeon.”

Gaining freedom – and two inches

Tristen stands tall following her surgery

Tristen recovered in the hospital for a week, and endured some pain and discomfort, but was home for the holidays.

By her six-month check up with Dr. Fuller last summer, she had gained two inches of height and she and her family “were amazed at how far she’d come,” Felicia said.

Now 13, Tristen is learning remotely but looks forward to her eighth-grade graduation in May. She is hopeful to join her school’s basketball team once school and activities resume in-person, a goal made physically possible for her in part from her corrective surgery.

Felicia and David said they are thankful the family found a surgeon they could trust to change Tristen’s life for the better.

“This surgery actually brought us much closer,” Felicia said. “There were days when she would see how tired I was and she'd look over at me and just say ‘thank you ma, for everything.’ Our journey was rough, but our village was tough!”

Watch a video featuring photos showing Tristen’s journey that Felicia and David created here.