After a Lifetime of Scoliosis, Spine Surgery Patient Stands Tall

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Melanie Loscutov is walking taller these days. An entire inch and a half taller. More importantly, after a lifetime of spinal degradation caused by scoliosis, Melanie is also walking pain-free.

“I needed to have surgery for many years, but I didn’t feel confident because it is a very significant surgery, and I knew it would take a lot of recovery time,” said Melanie, 55, who is a pediatric nurse practitioner at Hoag’s Mother-Baby unit. “I suffered with back pain for many years. It got to the point where the pain was becoming debilitating.”

Because Melanie’s scoliosis went undetected in her childhood, her spine had been progressively curving throughout her life. An energetic person – Melanie is a spin enthusiast and can outswim her kids – she sought out a surgeon whom she could trust to help her preserve her active lifestyle. Other colleagues at Hoag directed her to the Hoag Neurosurgery Spine Program and scoliosis expert, Pawel Jankowski, M.D., a neurosurgeon in Pickup Family Neurosciences Institute at Hoag.

“Dr. Jankowski was such a great teacher and patient advocate,” she said. “He involved me in the decision-making in my treatment plan and explained my treatment options in a way that was easy to understand. He didn’t assume that just because I’m an experienced health care professional that I should already know the answers to my questions. He took his time, was always positive and encouraging and he really inspired confidence.”

Melanie’s scoliosis measured 48 degrees (zero degree being a straight spine). She underwent correction of her curvature by derotating her spine through a multi-level spinal fusion and bone restructuring. The procedure was complex, and Melanie was impressed by the way Dr. Jankowski consulted a consortium of peers at Pickup Family Neurosciences Institute about his intended approach and made her feel confident about the surgery. She said she also appreciated the way he listened to her concerns about scarring and brought in plastic surgeon Donald Mowlds, M.D., to perform the suturing and reconstruction of her muscles to ensure optimal muscle recovery and minimize scarring of the surgical area on her back.

“Dr. Jankowski really understands and promotes the philosophy of patient-centered care. His confidence is very reassuring,” she said. “I am extremely grateful to Dr. Jankowski and his medical assistant, Mileni Avalos for their outstanding patient care.”

The surgery immediately alleviated much of the pain Melanie had been experiencing and has profoundly corrected her spinal curve.

“My discs were compressing on a nerve and the scoliosis was becoming severe. I realized I would become debilitated if I didn’t have the surgery,” she said. “I’m receiving physical therapy through Hoag’s outpatient physical therapy services and I have to say that every therapist has complimented how impressed they are with the significant correction Dr. Jankowski was able to perform.”

Following the surgery, Melanie had to wear a brace for 10 weeks to protect her back from twisting. And she has been doing physical therapy to retrain and strengthen her muscles. She said her physical discomfort is gone, her breathing has improved and she even looks thinner because she is standing straighter.

“I was 5-foot-three inches before the surgery, and now I’m back to five-foot-four,” she laughed.