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Emma has always been an active kid – a dancer, loves to ski – until she developed a curve in her spine and those activities had to stop. In an attempt to stop the curvature from getting worse as Emma grew, she had to be fitted for a hard plastic back brace that covered her entire upper torso. It was clunky, painful and sweaty. Worst of all, she had to wear it for 23 hours a day – only taking it off for showers. Emma stuck with the brace for as long as she could but around the 7 or 8 month mark, much to her parents’ disappointment, she could no longer bear wearing it. It was a daily battle between her and her parents Teresa and Kirk that became so bad, they had to give up and look for other approaches. Now, a surgery to insert titanium rods and screws into her back to straighten her spine was the only option.
The titanium rods would essential act as a brace on the inside of her body. No one would be able to see it and her spine would be straight. The bad news was the very thought of a ten hour surgery just millimetres from her spinal cord terrified Emma. So much so, that when the big day came, Emma, all prepped for surgery, panicked and refused to be put under. Despite his day-long operation having to be called off, Dr. David Parsons, her orthopedic surgeon, remained supportive. He never lost his patience – even though he lost his patient! In fact, he told Emma to “not worry – this was a trial run, not a failure.” However, Emma and her parents were now faced with the very real possibility that Emma’s surgery phobia could have very serious implications if she wouldn’t allow anyone to fix her spine. This is when social worker Sandi came on the scene.
“It was like meeting an angel,” says mum Teresa. They instantly bonded. It took months of working together to get Emma to even consider trying for surgery again, but Sandi got her there and a surgery date was set for October 2015. A week before the surgery, Sandi assembled key members of the O/R team to meet with Emma and address any of her questions or concerns. Anesthetist Dr. Michael Latel asked Emma directly, “Emma, what do you need?’ which made her burst into tears with gratitude. One of Emma’s big issues was that she didn’t want to be put to sleep in the O/R. She wanted to be out before she got to the O/R. “That’s easy,’ said Dr. Latel. On the day of her surgery, with the team at her side, including social worker Sandi, Emma allowed Dr. Latel to put her under. And just as she was slipping away into a deep sleep, she whispered a groggy, “I did it.” A cheer from everyone in the induction room, and the long-awaited surgery went ahead. Today, Emma is pain free and the curve in her spine is unnoticeable.