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I've Got It Tall!; Amazing op to put 12in rod in spine gives girl they called `hunchback' a model figure.

TUNNING blonde Sarah Greenwood has the looks and figure of a fashion model with an infectious zest for life.

But not so long ago she hid from the world and faced a future with a hideous back deformity that would only get worse.

Her life was a daily torment with the cruel taunts of other youngsters making school a misery.

Baggy clothes disguised her back twisted by a rare deformity that left her with a 120-degree curvature of the spine, but they couldn't spare her the physical pain or mental anguish.

Her doctor told her either she could stay racked by pain and "hunchbacked" for ever or she could have a delicate operation in which a surgeon would insert a 12in metal rod to straighten her back.

But it was risky and the choice was gut-wrenching - the operation could cure her or leave her totally paralysed.

Sarah didn't hesitate. She chose surgery, even though she would have to be aware enough during parts of the operation so that doctors could check for any damage to the spine, a prospect which terrified her.

The gamble paid off. Life today is a far cry from those dark days of the past. "Now I can be a normal teenager again and it is wonderful," said the 19-year-old beauty from Bradford, West Yorks, "I can wear a bikini without thinking about it. I don't have anything baggy in my wardrobe now. All my clothes are fitted - that's the fashion. I can wear anything I want."

In addition to her wardrobe of trendy clothes, she has a handsome new boyfriend she adores and a place at university on a top degree course.

Sarah had been a perfectly normal girl - until the age of 13. But within two years all that changed.

Her teenage years were wrecked by scoliosis, caused by a sudden spurt of adolescent growth.

She recalled: "I used to come home from school and my back would be sore and aching after a hard day.

"When I went to bed my dad would have to massage it. But it kept getting worse and I was terrified."

In the end, orthopaedic specialist Professor Robert Dickson told her she would have to wear a painful brace with no guarantee it would work - or face a nine-hour operation.

Her GCSE exams were looming and her condition was deteriorating rapidly.

"My back was getting worse. I was feeling more and more self-conscious and became very withdrawn.

"One taunt, when a boy called me `hunchback', made me realise I needed the operation so I could lead a normal life. I was more relieved than afraid when I was finally booked in."

Sarah had talked it over with her 60-year-old scientist father Barry and mum Jenny, 52, a local authority Press officer. They were concerned about their only child - but the decision had to be hers.

It was not an easy one. The operation was not simple. Surgeons had to cut close to the spinal cord. Sarah said: "My main fear was about waking up during the operation and being able to feel them operating on me.

"Professor Dickson said they would have to wake me up to check if my legs were all right.

"He said the anaesthetist could switch on just my hearing without me regaining consciousness. I was told they asked me to wiggle my toes but I don't remember anything.

"The hard thing is to walk into hospital when you are well, knowing for the next month you're not going to be able to get up.

"I had to have two operations. The first was to take some discs out between the vertebrae, making the spine more flexible so it could be moved straight. I was flat on my back for a whole week. I couldn't sit up and was helpless.

"Then after a week they did the second - going in down the middle, bringing the spine over and then securing it with a metal rod, fusing it together with bone shavings from my ribs. I was in the high-dependency unit for three days being closely monitored.

"I was in an awful lot of pain and spent all my time in bed wondering whether it was all worth it.

"I was so weak that I had to learn how to stand again. I had a special made-to-measure jacket to support my back. It was moulded from plastic around my body, taking 20 minutes to set. It was like a coat of armour protecting my back.

"I was told I might have to wear the jacket for six months, but in the end I made such good progress that I only had it on a month."

Her progress was testimony to her courage and determination. Although still in pain, Sarah went back to school to gain a clutch of eight GCSEs, including three A grades.

But returning to normal was an uphill struggle. For fate had yet another cruel shock in store for her. As she began her A-level exams she began feeling listless and low. She suffered repeated bouts of tonsillitis.

Friends deserted her because she was too tired to go out and she mooched around the house all day in her pyjamas.

Plucky Sarah had fallen victim to the mystery debilitating illness ME which leaves sufferers exhausted.

But once again her determination enabled her to win another battle for health.

Sarah was determined to pass her driving test - and did. She ignored her fatigue by going out and making new friends. Then along came her boyfriend Simon.

Sarah won a place on a combined honours degree course, majoring in psychology, at Bradford University, where she is now going great guns.

Life now has never looked better. "I know I won't take my health for granted in future," she said, "but I just want to enjoy the rest of my life and get as much out of it as I can."

Professor Dickson is amazed at her recovery. He said; "Sarah had a hideous deformity and thanks to the operation now has none at all.

"She would have had a hunch for life and it would have got worse but now she has a normal back.

"Sarah is a great example of how much progress we have made in recent years in this type of treatment. She will have a perfectly normal life now, whereas people used have to live with these humps for ever."
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Copyright 1998 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Author:Rousewell, Dean
Publication:The People (London, England)
Date:Nov 1, 1998
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