Teen athlete sidelined by spine surgery gets help for scoliosis

Zoe Price is a "middle" or midfielder for the North Paulding High School Wolfpack lacrosse team, which means she is on the move a lot.

"You just try to get across the field to wherever the ball is," Price says.  "So, I'm defense and offense."

And, 8 months after spinal fusion surgery, the 13-year-old is back in the game.

"I would probably say I've gotten more aggressive, I've gotten better with my stick skills and everything, and catching and passing," she says.

Price scoliosis, a sideways curvature of her spine. 

Her mom Paula Price says the problem was not as obvious as you would think.

"She had no hip problems, no back problems, no shoulder problems," she says.  

But, last summer, on a beach trip, with Zoe in a swimsuit, Zoe's father noticed one of her shoulder blades was sticking out.

"We honestly thought it was a sports injury, and started Googling and assumed she had just thrown the ball too much in lacrosse."

But after seeing her x-rays, it was clear this was not a sports injury.  

A Children's Healthcare of Atlanta orthopedist diagnosed the 7th grader with scoliosis.

"I was really shocked," Zoe remembers.  "I tried not to express that on the outside because it's hard to express your feelings to people.  But, (it was) definitely was scary for me, because you never expect that to happen."

Looking back at photos, her parents can see Zoe was dropping her shoulder.

"We actually thought she was posing, to be honest," her mother says.  "Honestly, the photos bring tears to my eyes to this day, because I didn't realize anything was wrong, and, as a mom, I feel like I missed it.  But everything was internal.  So there was pretty much no way of knowing until it was too late."

To correct the misalignment, Dr. Michael Schmitz, Chief of the Orthopedics and Sports Medicine Center at Children's Healthcare of Atlanta, fused 10 vertebrae in Zoe's thoracic, or mid-back, region.

"The goal with this procedure is, once done, it should not have to be repeated or changed; it should be a lifelong solution," Dr. Schmitz says.

With her spine straightened, Zoe instantly grew 2 inches.

"So, she still has scoliosis, but it's dramatically better," Paula Price says.  "She will always have scoliosis; they can't completely straighten it out. But the before and after is shocking and amazing."

Dr. Schmitz says with early detection, some kids can avoid surgery.

But, he says, the pandemic disrupted routine scoliosis screenings, delaying a diagnosis for many kids.

"So, some of these patients we've really not seen or not observed for almost two years," Schmitz says.  "So, now we're seeing them come back into the pediatrician's office, come through school screening, and we're seeing more of these curves that we weren't able to look for about two years."

When Zoe Price finally returned to lacrosse 4 months after her surgery, she was full of emotion.

She scored within the first 20 seconds.

"To see her take the field and just be able to run and be able to do things children do every day, that she hadn't been able to do, it was an amazing feeling," her mother says.