(LONDON) — Emily Crosby, 14, is passionate about doing her splits in dance class and playing sports, like badminton and netball. But her love for those activities would have been cut short if not for a life-saving operation last June that corrected an extreme case of scoliosis, or curvature of the spine.
Her mother, Jackie Crosby, still can’t believe how she missed the telling signs of this condition last year.
“In dance class last January , the teacher was holding her in a pose, and noticed the shoulder blade was sticking out at the time,” she said. “She told her, you need to go home and tell your mom about this.”
The teenage girl, who has two younger brothers, lives in Hartlepool in northeast England.
“She always has a towel covering her shoulders, so you would never notice anything,” her mother said.
An appointment last April with a spinal surgeon revealed Emily’s life-threatening condition. A simple procedure, asking the patient to bend forward and touch her toes, gives the first clues.
“When they asked her to bend over, it was like a shark’s fin, or a hump,” Emily’s mom recalled. “Her whole shoulder blade was lifting from her back. And she wasn’t in any pain.”
The specialists at James Cook hospital performed X-rays, and what they found was shocking.
“I cried when I saw the spine’s shape,” said Jackie Crosby. ”Her lungs were trapped between her ribs and were getting pushed. But she hadn’t felt any breathing pains yet. She did everything sporty, and she was never out of breath.”
Though doctors called it the “worst spinal curvature” they had ever seen, the condition for many is actually part of growing up.
Scoliosis most commonly occurs during the growth spurts in puberty and early adolescence. In Britain, scoliosis affects around three or four children out of every 1,000, but in 90 percent of the cases, no treatment is ever needed.
In Emily’s case, there was no choice but surgery. In June, she underwent an 11-hour operation in which her spine was fused and straightened between two titanium rods screwed in place.
“The worst scenario was paralysis if the knife had gone in the wrong direction,” said Jackie Crosby.
But weeks later, Emily was doing the splits.
Doctors gave Emily the green light to continue her passion for dance and sports but warned that some activities could affect the rods in her spine.
“They prefer she doesn’t do horseback riding or any trampoline,” Jackie Crosby said.
With her spine fused, Emily will only grow in her legs from now on, her doctors said.
The Crosbys hope their daughter’s triumph over scoliosis sends a message of hope to all growing children battling the curved spine condition.
“She’d love to try skiing since she hasn’t skied before,” said Jackie Crosby, adding that Emily has been nominated for a local award in Hartlepool as a child of courage. “We’re nervous about it as parents. But if she feels comfortable in trying it, we’ll let her do it.”
Copyright 2013 ABC News Radio
Jennifer Graham, Deseret News
Jen Christensen, CNN
Sarah Stewart, KFOR