Leyburn teenager “counting herself lucky” after spinal surgery

A teenager says she is “counting herself lucky” despite enduring a 12-hour operation to correct her spine.

In 2014, Samantha Heeney’s mum noticed that one side of her back was arched higher than the other.

She was not in pain so did not think anything about it, but her mum booked her a doctor’s appointment regardless.

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The doctor referred her to a specialist at James Cook in Middlesbrough who confirmed it was scoliosis – a medical condition in which a person’s spine has a sideways curve.

“I had never heard of it before but looking at your x-ray and seeing that your own spine is bent was pretty daunting,” said Samantha, now 17, from Leyburn.

The teenager had a back brace made, which is a hard, plastic mould of the body.

“I was told to wear this for 20 hours a day in hope the that pressure pushing on my spine would prevent the curvature from worsening.

“As an already self-conscious teen about to start my GCSEs, there was no way I could commit to wearing that, but I did give it a chance and mainly wore it at night, before eventually giving up and throwing it to the back of the airing cupboard.”

Samantha Heeney is now back home after the operation.

Samantha said correctional surgery had been mentioned at every consultation, but each time it was brought up, she got upset.

That was until early this year when she decided that because her curve had progressed further since her diagnosis, she may as well go ahead with it.

“My bones were still young and flexible, so recovery would be easiest at this point in my life, rather than wait until I was older when it could have caused more issues.”

So on September 25 while being anaesthetised for roughly 12 hours, she had the spinal fusion; two metal rods either side of her spine, held together by a large number of screws through the middle.

“I was finally straight and I’d grown a nifty 3cm,” said Samantha.

“All in all, I spent a week in hospital; it was tough, but nowhere near as bad as I feared it would be pre-op.”

Now back home Samantha has paid tribute to staff at James Cook.

“Every single member of staff was great – from the above and beyond, constant one to one care of the paediatric intensive care unit, the nurses on Ward 22 that put up with everything under the sun, the skilled physios that force you to move because it’s ‘what’s best for you’ even though all you want to do is sleep, to the kitchen hands and cleaners that brighten your day simply with a conversation.

“I looked forward to my amazingly positive, specialist scoliosis nurse, Cheryl, popping in to see me at 6am every morning even though she never had to take time out of her busy day to do so, it’s small things like that, that make all the difference.

“Of course, none of this could have been done without a super talented surgeon, Mr Hekal and I’ll forever count myself lucky that I’ve received such treatment.”

The fantastic treatment she received is why Samantha wants to say thank you by holding a fundraising event at the Methodist Hall, Leyburn, on Saturday, November 18, from 10.30am until 2pm.

There will hot drinks, homemade cakes, a bric-a-brac sale, along with a tombola and a small face painting stand.

All money will go directly to departments at James Cook that helped Samantha.