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Teen nearly disabled by scoliosis is back in the saddle after surgery, support

Posted on 04/06/2009 12:00am

Ride of her young life

Teen nearly disabled by scoliosis is back in the saddle after surgery, support

By Grania Litwin, Times Colonist

June 4, 2009

When Bill Poag sweeps his daughter onto the dance floor on Saturday night he will be fighting a lump in his throat, because one year ago young Catriona was facing life in a wheelchair.

The active tween and accomplished young rider was referred to Dr. Norgrove Penny at Queen Alexandra Centre for Children in January 2008. He diagnosed a rampant spinal condition -- a deforming curve of 55 degrees -- and referred her urgently for surgery in Vancouver. She and her family waited on pins and needles for a surgery date that finally came in November.

By then the scoliosis had twisted her spine to 85 degrees.

But the surgery was a success and Catriona, 13, and her dad will offer visible proof of that triumph when they attend the Butterfly Ball on Saturday. The evening is designed for daughters and fathers, or father figures -- to benefit the Queen Alexandra Foundation (see story at right).

"No one knows why this happened to my daughter," said Poag, noting it typically strikes children ages 10 to 14. "And going into the operation was very scary. The scoliosis had progressed very quickly and her internal organs were being compromised, along with her ability to breathe, her heart function.

"Coming through it so successfully was like a miracle. The medical team was fantastic."

The 12-hour operation by Dr. Christopher Reilly at B.C. Children's Hospital reduced the curvature to 24 degrees and added four inches to her height. It also added two permanent stainless steel rods and 24 screws to her thoracic spine.

Removal of 79 staples (in place of sutures) took three hours, and was aided by her brother, a medical student in Sydney, Australia, who flew home to assist and provide moral support.

"Facilities like Queen Alexandra are just wonderful and Dr. Penny is tops, so we are very happy to support the event," said Poag, who admits he's a bit panicky since he's not a great dancer. But he knows his daughter won't injure herself even if she tries the twist.

"The first time I saw Catriona ride again I was quite emotional. I really could hardly believe it. She is so strong now, so brave and her mother has been fabulous."

Catriona stayed in hospital six days after surgery, recovered at home for six months, missed four weeks of school, and was back on her horse two weeks ago.

"Riding again made me feel so free," said the courageous teen this week.

She has a new dress for the ball and it shows part of the scar that runs from under her neck almost down to her hips, but she doesn't mind. "I'm just relieved to be back to normal. I held the fear inside . . . . I know, because when they began to put me under in the operating room I started to cry."

Her mother, Gail Gordon, said the experience was a nightmare but she never let her daughter see her fear, or how risky the operation was. "I was frantic but we had no option. Otherwise she would be in a wheelchair now.

Ironically Gordon, who is divorced from Poag, served on the QA Foundation board for three years, never dreaming they would one day need its services. "I got involved because my uncle was run over by a horse and cart in Scotland years ago, and there was no facility like QA for him.

"Dr. Penny was such a support . . . We wanted to go somewhere else but he persuaded us to wait for Dr. Reilly because his results are superb."

At first they weren't aware of the scoliosis because it didn't hurt.

"Then it went crazy, haywire and Catriona started changing before our eyes.

"Now it is over and she has become a butterfly -- so the name of this dance is perfect."

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