I’m so happy to be standing straight

PUBLISHED: 09:21 02 June 2006 | UPDATED: 10:56 22 October 2010

Francesca Hilliard.

Francesca Hilliard.

Teenager Francesca Hilliard lived with scoliosis for much of her life without realising it.

Teenager Francesca Hilliard lived with scoliosis for much of her life without realising it.

Her mum Marianne often asked her to “stand up straight” but the family never suspected anything untoward until December 2002 when Francesca was 12.

Now 15, she said: “I was lying on the floor and I felt quite uncomfortable. I asked mum to have a look at my back. It looked like it was out of place.”

Francesca went to see her GP who referred her to consultant orthopaedic and spinal surgeon Am Rai who decided to operate.

“Until that point I had a fairly normal childhood,” she says. “I had never broken any bones before and had been really healthy.

“But I didn't find it difficult to decide to have the operation. I just wanted to have it put right.”

Francesca was 13 when she had the five-hour op, which saw long metal rods straighten the middle part of her spine. The results are significant. She now stands upright and has more confidence.

“Now I get out a lot more, I do more active things and I have a lot more confidence about myself.

“I am now just determined to go out and enjoy myself,” said Francesca, who is studying for GCSEs at Wymondham High School and plans to go on to Norwich City College to do her A-levels and later to university after that.

“Whenever I meet Mr Rai I am so thankful that he has been able to help me and make me so much happier with myself.”

After the operation, Francesca who lives with her family at Maple Close, Wymondham, was on her feet within a week.

Her mum said: “When she got out of bed the biggest thing I noticed was that she was so much taller, about three inches, and she looked so upright, it was a big moment for us as parents because over the years it seemed as though she was losing height.”

Like many parents of children with Scoliosis, Mrs Hilliard feels she should have spotted Francesca's condition earlier.

“She kept saying she was uncomfortable and at one time I felt really awful when I told her to stand up straight and she said 'I am standing up straight' and I said to her 'no you are not.'”

Mr Rai said: “While Francesca did not have an obvious curvature of the spine, it was quite noticeable to the trained eye.

“Her curvature was of 65-70 degrees and that is quite significant.

“Our concern with this was that it would progress as she got older and she would not be able to lead an active lifestyle with the curve moving at 0.5-1 degree a year.

“It was quite a major operation and one of the biggest risks is that damage can be done to the nerves and cause paralysis.”

Unlike Thomas, Francesca will only need one operation. Her spine has been fused in position with titanium screws and rods and because she has finished growing they will remain in place for life.

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