Visit with a Scoliosis Patient
Kathy played on the LPGA Tour from 1968 to 1979, joined the business world for several years, and returned to golf as an LPGA Teaching and Club Professional (T&CP) member. She was the senior division champion of the LPGA T&CP Team Classic four times in the mid- to late-‘90s and the senior division champion of the LPGA Central Section twice, in ‘01 and ‘02. She had problems with degenerative lumbar discs for years, she said, “but I never recalled hearing the word ‘scoliosis’.” Scoliosis is an abnormal lateral curvature of the spine. Most people think it’s a teenage issue. But, as Kathy discovered, it can be a problem for adults, too. She was used to a certain amount of pain from her disc problems – a dull, chronic lower back pain that was manageable with over-the-counter anti-inflammatory medicines. But early in January 2003, “I noticed a new pain around the right side of my rib cage.” Within two months, despite keeping up an aggressive work out schedule, the pain was bad enough for her orthopedic physician to order a full body, stand up X ray of Kathy’s spine. The image told the story: Kathy was diagnosed with a 46-degree right-forward leaning curvature of the spine. Scoliosis.
“I broke down and cried when I saw it,” she recalled. “I knew something was significantly wrong.” She went to see a scoliosis specialist who spent a lot of time reviewing her options with her. Surgery was one, but not the first offered: She could continue exercising and try different regimens of pain medication. The key was to find the combination that would reduce her pain, but still allow her to function. “It was an adventure,” she said, with a grimace. “The pain I had with advanced scoliosis was excruciating, intense, and unrelenting.”
Throughout this period, Kathy continued to teach golf and still played. She participated in the national T&CP Championship in August and was in such misery, she said, that she decided to have surgery done: “My quality of life was awful.” The correction surgery was scheduled for October. In preparation, Kathy kept up her work out schedule, concentrating on strengthening her abdominal and leg muscles. She adjusted her diet to take in more protein. She focused her thoughts on health and healing and prepared for the multi-hour surgery and months of rehabilitation she faced.
The surgery took seven hours and involved latching two steel rods to her vertebrae to correct the scoliosis, as well as replacing the four degenerated discs. Two days in the ICU followed, then two days on the medical/surgical unit. From there Kathy went to a rehabilitation center for 11 days: “This is where the tire meets the road,” she said. Here she worked on walking, showering, and dressing. Once at home, the hard work of regaining her strength and abilities became her full-time job. She wore a back brace for five months, exercising every day, maintaining a nutritionally rich diet, and balancing her medicines – as directed by her physician – with her recovery.
Her improvement continued incrementally. At eight weeks post-surgery, she was cleared to drive. In February she was cleared to chip and putt – a milestone for this golfer! In March, pitch shots were allowed. “It was a real incentive to get back,” she said, adding, “being out on the course made me feel normal.” Kathy rejoined the Ladies Day at the country club where she continues to teach. It has been over two years since her surgery and she’s been able to make a full swing virtually pain free since one year post-op.
Kathy’s goal in 2006 is to play in the national T&CP Championship. “I have always played with the intent to win, but my expectations are different now,” she explained. “I have had a dramatic change for the better in the quality of my life. Now I want to play because I can.”
-- Kathy Farrer
As with any medical treatment, individual results may vary. Only a doctor can determine an appropriate course of treatment. There are potential risks, and recovery takes time. These factors need to be discussed with your doctor.
IMPORTANT SAFETY INFORMATION
As with any medical treatment, individual results may vary. There are potential risks and recovery takes time. People with conditions limiting rehabilitation should not have this surgery. Only a spine surgeon can tell if back or neck treatment is right for you.