Your Healthy Family: Returning to athletics after scoliosis surgery

Posted at 11:30 AM, Jul 06, 2018
and last updated 2018-08-20 14:19:18-04

Kennedy Garnhart was first diagnosed with scoliosis when she was 12.  When she was 17 the curve in her spine had become so serious that Dr. Brian Shaw, a pediatric orthopedic surgeon with Children’s Hospital Colorado in Colorado Springs, recommended surgery to implant steel rods in her spine to correct the curve.

Kennedy and her family had concerns that her senior season as a setter on the Liberty High School volleyball team, and hopes of playing college volleyball were in jeopardy.

Kennedy says, “There was still some worry in it that I wouldn’t be able to do it and I wouldn’t be strong enough.  In those times (after surgery) when I was training and was like ‘it’s not worth it, I can’t do it’, I just kept pushing.  I remember playing in our first game, and I showed myself that I could do it. It gave me so much more strength in myself and now I’m a lot more confident.  It was really relieving to be able to know that I could do it, and knowing that I can get through anything that comes my way.”

Kids who have corrective surgery for scoliosis returning to athletics is more common than most people may think, says Dr. Shaw.  “We have kids playing D1 basketball, tennis all kinds of sports, and generally at 3 months (after surgery) they are cleared to return to sport.”

While it’s Kennedy who’s made her name setting up hitters on the volleyball court for kills, in this case it was Dr. Shaw who set Kennedy up with the chance to continue athletics at the next level while giving her a literal boost along the way.

Kennedy says, “After the rods and screws, I grew almost 2 inches, so that was cool.”

Dr. Shaw says, “We do 2 things in surgery, stop it from getting worse and we can get some correction.  We attach implants (titanium and cobalt chrome steel rods) to the spine and we can get correction of curve, and we made her taller by about an inch.  She says 2, (laughs) but she did gain some height here.”

While she takes pride in her hard work in her comeback from surgery, Kennedy says she will always have a special place in her heart for the role Dr. Shaw played making her whole.  “He’s awesome!  After the surgery I had a picture of myself playing volleyball and I gave it to him and told him the only reason I am doing this and able to do everything, is because of him.  He’s a big part of my life because he helped me to be where I am today.”

Kennedy and her family hope that by sharing their story, others will learn that while the thought of corrective surgery involving steel rods on a person’s spine, an active, athletic, and healthy life is still possible.