It’s hard enough for any teen girl to feel like she fits in, let alone when she has to wear a brace to school, do time-consuming exercises multiple times a day and live in constant pain.
Such can be the case with girls who have scoliosis, a condition that describes a sideways curvature of the spine. It usually occurs during an adolescent growth spurt and occurs more often in girls.
Emily Brinegar, a recent graduate of Laramie High School, was diagnosed with scoliosis during a routine physical when she moved to Laramie from Rawlins about five years ago.
“I had no idea what it was,” she said.
Brinegar, 18, started doing nonsurgical treatments in an attempt to slow the progression of the condition. She had curves in several places along her spine as well as a rotation that pushed out her shoulder blades.
She wore a flexible brace around her back eight hours a day. Every three months, she spent a week in Green Bay, Wisconsin, at a clinic. At home she spent 20 minutes at a time, three times a day, doing weighted movements to help her posture.
“It definitely took up a lot of my time,” she said. “I would want to go hang out with people and I would have to cram it in after school.”
It wasn’t an easy introduction to high school.
“I was the new girl, and the girl wearing the weird brace, and there was no one else that I knew of at the time (that was going through the same thing),” she said.
Then Brinegar hit a growth spurt, and the treatments didn’t keep up with the changes to her spine, so her family decided on surgery. Three years ago, she went to New York City, where a doctor used screws to attach a flexible rod to her spine. The intention was that as she grew, the rod would help correct the curve over time while allowing Brinegar to maintain some flexibility in her back. Thanks to the surgery, Brinegar found herself an inch and a half taller.
She spent two weeks in New York and then needed an emergency trip to a Colorado hospital during an arduous recovery.
“After that I felt really alone, like no one really knew what I was going through,” she said.
During one of her doctor visits, Brinegar noticed a flyer for an organization called Curvy Girls, a peer support group for girls with scoliosis. She decided to start a Wyoming chapter, and suddenly she wasn’t alone anymore.
“We have quite a few girls,” she said.
The club meets about once a month. A half-dozen attendees hang out, do things teenage girls do together, and occasionally talk about their shared condition.
“You can talk to them and they know what you’re going through,” she said.
Last summer, Brinegar attended a Curvy Girls convention in Long Island, New York, and described a new world that opened up for her. Everyone she met had scoliosis, and she made friends, learned ways to handle the pain and saw others chasing after their goals.
“It was a really inspiring and uplifting,” she said.
As part of National Scoliosis Awareness Day, the Wyoming chapter has planned an awareness walk and bake sale at 9 a.m. at Washington Park. The group will walk two laps around the park while learning facts about scoliosis from club members.
“If there are people that have (scoliosis) and don’t know about the club, they should come out,” she said.
The event is free, but donations will be accepted. Proceeds will go toward travel expenses for club members to attend future conventions.
After her surgery, Brinegar had to stop playing basketball, but she picked up tennis and track and field throwing events instead. Her pain is less than it used to be, but still a presence in her life. A day trip to Denver, for example, is hard. Now standing 6-feet-1-inch tall, she thinks she’s done growing.
Brinegar is planning to attend Laramie County Community College this fall and study to be a physical therapist, a testament to the therapists that have helped her along the way.
She advised others with scoliosis not to let it bring them down.
“You’re beautiful just the way you are,” she said. “It can’t stop you. It’ll make you stronger.”