Wigan student is standing tall and wants to inspire others after spinal surgery
A teenager who had a nine-hour operation to correct a curve in her spine is encouraging other youngsters with the condition to speak up.
Macey Brooks, 18, tried to hide the fact she had scoliosis and did not tell people about it.
But as she recovers from surgery, she wants to raise awareness of the condition and urged other young people not to be ashamed.
Macey, who lives in Ashton, said: “I want to tell people if they have a worry or a difference with their body, or if they think they are different, don’t hide away. Embrace it and show off who you are.”
Macey was diagnosed with scoliosis - a curve in her spine - at the age of 12, while she was a pupil at Cansfield High School.
She said: “I was in my room one day and noticed a slight abnormality to my right rib. It was protruding out. I was a bit concerned and my mum said she would take me to the doctors. They said at the time there was nothing concerning, keep an eye on it and see what happens.”
But just two weeks later, her dance teacher pulled her to one side to say she had noticed her rib was humped at the back and suggested she saw a doctor.
This time she saw a doctor at Wigan Infirmary who said she had scoliosis.
“I had all the symptoms, which were uneven hips, uneven shoulders, the protruding of my rib and the rib hump,” she said.
“When I bent over, you could see the curve in my spine.
“My mum and dad were daunted. We had never heard of scoliosis before.
“With the condition it can be hidden by your skin and clothes, because it’s an internal condition. I always had my hoodie on and hair down because I could hide it.”
Macey said she thought her “life was over” when she was diagnosed and thought she was the “only one in the world” with scoliosis.
She said: “My body was completely different to other 12-year-olds and I didn’t know what I would do.”
Macey was referred to Alder Hey Children’s Hospital in Liverpool and an X-ray showed the curve in her spine was at 40 degrees.
As she was still growing, she decided to wait until she was older to have surgery to correct it, and doctors monitored it regularly with X-rays.
But Macey did not feel comfortable with the condition.
She said: “None of my friends knew. Every time I told my friends I was going to the orthodontist. Because it wasn’t really a known condition, I didn’t want people to know.
“I achieved things at school and I was head girl. If I said I had this condition, I didn’t want people to think I was guilt-tripping to get to be head girl. I didn’t want people fussing.”
It also affected her confidence when dancing, as she worried the audience would notice the curve when she wore an open-back leotard.
Macey got on with her life, but the scoliosis did cause her to wheeze, as the curvature was pressing on her lung.
She said: “When I was breathing there was always a slight rattling. I didn’t like the thought of people hearing it.”
Last year doctors discovered the curve had progressed and was at 80 degrees.
As she was then fully grown, she decided it was time to go ahead with the surgery.
Her mum received a phone call in December to say the operation would take place in January, but only told Macey a week before as she did not want to spoil her Christmas.
As she was 18, Macey had to give consent for the procedure to go ahead and was warned the risks included nerve damage and paralysis.
She said: “I remember signing this piece of paper and saying, ‘that’s it’. It was real at that point.”
Macey, who attends Winstanley College, told two friends about the operation but did not even tell her dad until the day before. Her brother did not know until after the surgery.
“I didn’t tell people I was having an operation because I didn’t want the fuss,” she said.
As she wanted to be prepared for what was to come, she watched videos of the operation on YouTube.
When Macey was taken to the operating theatre, medics made a 12-inch incision in her back and inserted two titanium rods, which hold her spine in the correct position, with 20 screws.
She also had three ribs removed to address the hump and improve her wheezing.
The operation lasted nine hours, with Macey asleep for 11-and-a-half hours in total.
“When I first came round after the operation, my first words were, ‘where has my wheezing gone?’” she said.
Macey was released from hospital a week later and is continuing to recover from the operation.
She is starting to move around quicker than she was as the pain is reducing.
It will take 12 months for her to recover in total and ensure the spine has fully fused.
Macey said: “I can go back to dancing at six months, which I can’t wait to do. It’s six months for non-contact sports like football and tennis and 12 months for more extreme sports like skiing and horse riding.
“The actual recovery long-term doesn’t prevent you doing anything in life.”
The operation has had a surprising result - Macey is now two-and-a-half inches taller!
And she is delighted that she finally decided to have the surgery.
Macey said: “I feel absolutely unbelievable now. Because it was such a scary thing for me, I was so scared about the operation and there was doubt and worry. But now I have had it done.
“If I could tell my 12-year-old self or another 12-year-old going through it, I would say not to worry. I have no worries anymore. I definitely feel a lot more healthy in myself.”
Macey now feels able to “embrace” the condition and shared her story on Instagram to let other people know what she had been through.
Since then, she has received messages from other youngsters who also have scoliosis.
Macey said: “Being in hospital and seeing younger girls come in for the operation, it made me wish my story was everyone else’s survival guide. They could look at me as an icon to accept themselves.
“I wanted to put it out there, especially because scoliosis isn’t spoken about enough. I think because of my age, I feel if I saw an 18-year-old when I was 12 have that operation, it would have really reassured me.”
She was particularly keen to speak out to help people influenced by what they see on social media, who may feel concerned about having a curve in their spine.
She said: “Don’t take social media as being the perfect life. Everyone has their own insecurities.”
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