During a routine annual exam, Jasmine Castellano's pediatrician discovered the 9-year-old was developing scoliosis, a curvature of the spine. A follow-up X-ray revealed Jasmine had a 30-degree curve. Hoping to avoid the operating room, Jasmine's mother, Rochelle took her daughter to physical therapy, signed her up for swim lessons and read everything she could find about the spine disorder. But, a few months later, another X-ray showed Jasmine's curve was advancing. Here is Rochelle's account of how things unfolded:
How did you feel when the doctor said Jasmine had scoliosis?
I was shocked. She was so healthy and active. I couldn't believe she had scoliosis. As a parent, you always wonder...was it something I did? Something I didn't do? Seeing your child suffer is heart wrenching. And then there is the moment when you have to sit her down and break the news. That was rough. She cried. I cried. But I told her everything was going to be OK. I promised her I'd get her a puppy after it was all said and done (laughter). She reminds me of that promise every single day.
What was the scariest part of hearing the diagnosis?
The scariest part was the uncertainty. I didn't know much about scoliosis, so I started searching for information online and, well, let's just say that the Internet is not always your friend. Nothing I read online was reassuring. Everything pointed toward spinal fusion. I knew that spinal fusion surgery might keep the curve from getting worse but Jasmine's curve was very aggressive, so we really needed something that was going to have a corrective element to it. And, at the same time, I was scared to death of putting her through back surgery.
Describe your first meeting with Dr. Mohammad Diab.
Dr. Diab put my mind at ease right away. He was very well versed in the latest advancements. He was very calm and confident. He had an instant rapport with Jasmine, which was important to me. He explained his success with a new surgery called vertebral body stapling. I have to admit that when he first described the stapling thing, I thought, "Whoa...that sounds like science fiction." I worried that it was too new. But he explained everything and put our minds at ease. He helped us see that this procedure could really help Jasmine in the long run. The most appealing aspect of the surgery was its fast recovery time. Plus, it didn't fuse any vertebrae, which means she'll have more flexibility.
What I liked about Dr. Diab was that his concern for Jasmine was genuine. He called us at home the day after our consultation with him just to see if we had any follow-up questions and to stress what a good candidate Jasmine was for the surgery. It took a few weeks for us to decide, but together we chose to go ahead with the vertebral body stapling. Ultimately, I'm glad we didn't wait any longer because when Jasmine went into surgery her curve had progressed to 50 degrees. If it had gotten any worse, she wouldn't have been a candidate for the procedure, which would have left us with one less option.
How did the surgery go?
The surgery took eight hours. During that time, my mind raced. It's a horrible feeling to be sitting in the waiting room while your child is under the knife. I had put so much trust in the doctors. Dr. Diab predicted that he'd be able to reduce her curve to 20 degrees, which would have been amazing. After the surgery, he came out and told my husband and me that he'd gotten Jasmine's curve down to a mere 8 degrees. By all accounts, she no longer had scoliosis. He brought out the post-operative X-ray to show us the change. My husband, Rick, and I were both in tears. We took pictures of the X-ray with our phones we were so excited (laughs). We wanted to share the news with our friends and family. We were just so happy and so thankful. Dr. Diab pulled the surgery off brilliantly. I was so relieved.
What was the recovery like for Jasmine?
Make no mistake — this is not an easy surgery. She was in the hospital for several days with a chest tube and very limited range of motion. Once we got her home, she had to wear a back brace whenever she wasn't either flat in bed or in the shower. She didn't like wearing the brace. She was under strict orders not to run or jump. She could either lie in bed or she could walk. Those were her options. Overall, it was a very boring summer, but she got through it.
The good news is that she healed so fast she was able to get out of the brace after just three months instead of the usual six. I think the day her doctor told her she didn't have to wear the brace anymore was the happiest day of her life. The minute we got home from our appointment at UCSF, she wanted to ride her bike. So we went for a long, long bike ride together. Within the week she was climbing on the monkey bars, turning cartwheels and doing flips. Of course, I almost had a heart attack, but she was fine.
How's she feeling now that she's six months post-op?
She does everything she did before surgery and more. She swims, takes gymnastics and is beginning a karate class. To look at her you'd never know she had scoliosis or spine surgery for that matter. Of course, the doctors at UCSF will continue to monitor her as she grows. They might need to make some adjustments down the road. But so far, so good.
How do you feel about the experience?
I am just so thankful that my daughter is healthy and strong. She's taught me so much about life and about strength. I used to worry about the little things but that's all changed. The world is full of worries. It's easy to make yourself crazy thinking about all of the "what ifs." Instead, I've started taking one day at a time. Next on the list? Getting Jasmine that puppy I promised her!