Taryn Burress

Taryn Burress

Spine surgery didn’t stop Taryn Burress from wearing a backless dress to prom just months after having the procedure to correct her scoliosis.

The 18-year-old was diagnosed with scoliosis, a condition that causes the spine to curve, in 2015. Taryn’s mother, Tracie, recalled noticing that her daughter was tilting to the left even when she tried to stand up straight, and her clothes weren’t fitting right. The teen was also suffering from back pain and headaches.

Taryn’s father, Glen, is a pediatric gastroenterologist in Rockford and knew Rockford Spine Center’s Dr. Michael Roh, who suggested Taryn come to the office for X-rays. Most scoliosis cases are detected incidentally during a sports physical by simply looking at a patient’s back while he or she is bent forward at the waist.

“Patients with S-shaped curves are often diagnosed later, compared to C-shaped curves. Taryn had an S-shaped curve with good shoulder balance, which was harder to detect,” Dr. Roh explained.

Taryn’s tests showed her head was out of balance with her spine, so she was molded for a back brace to wear during her freshman year at Auburn High School in Rockford. Navigating high school on a normal day can be tough, and wearing a back brace didn’t make it any easier.

“It was definitely an experience,” Taryn recalled. “I was supposed to wear it 24/7, which I did and which was easier to do at Auburn since I was comfortable with everybody there. They would joke with me and knock on the brace. But then I switched to Guilford [high school], and I did not want to be the new girl with the brace on. So I wore it only at night and while I slept.”

Taryn wore the chest-to-waist brace for about a year and a half, and she also did some physical therapy. The family’s kitchen table has a souvenir from that time – one of the chairs is scratched because the brace stuck out from Taryn’s shirt. Still, bracing was the best option for Taryn’s age and diagnosis.

“Once scoliosis reaches 20-25 degrees in size, bracing becomes an option if the child is still growing,” Dr. Roh noted. “Once the patient is finished growing, a smaller curve has virtually no risk of getting larger. So the goal of brace treatment is to prevent the curve from getting larger and reaching a 45-to-50-degree magnitude. Once the curve is that large, it will continue to get bigger through adulthood and eventually require a fairly massive and much riskier operation.”

Taryn had a 37-degree curvature when she was first diagnosed. In fall of 2017, after a year and a half in the brace, the curve was at 49 degrees. Her “severe trunk shift and tilt became increasingly obvious and painful,” which is what led Dr. Roh to suggest surgery, and the family agreed.

“I found out in October that I’d be having the surgery in December, so I had time to prepare,” Taryn said. “The only thing I don’t like is needles, so the idea of getting the IV made me anxious. I knew surgery-wise, I was going to be OK and wasn’t really worried.”

Dr. Roh did Taryn’s surgery at Rockford Memorial Hospital. She doesn’t remember much, other than being sore when first sitting and standing up. Post-surgery, Tracie said her daughter asked for a stuffed animal and her brother, Grant. The surgery was Taryn’s first major medical procedure.

“Go big or go home is what we said at the time,” Tracie noted. “It was difficult to see her in the hospital, but we knew we were in very good hands. We are so lucky to have world-renowned surgeons such as Dr. Roh in Rockford. I’m so grateful for him.”

Six months post-op, Tracie and Taryn both agreed that Taryn’s incision and back “looked awesome.” As mentioned earlier, Taryn was so confident that she opted to wear a red beaded dress with cutouts in the back to prom in May of this year.

“I was determined to not hide my scar – everybody already knew I had surgery,” Taryn said. “It’s a blessing, almost like a battle wound,” Tracie added.

Another blessing? Taryn’s headaches are gone. And she grew a half-inch after the surgery.

“The overall experience has been so good, from the PT department, to the staff and the nurses. It’s been a life-changing experience for her,” Tracie said.

Taryn was accepted to and will leave in a few months for Howard University, where she plans to study International Business. Dr. Roh was especially pleased with her outcome as she embarks on a new chapter in her life.

“Her spine is completely straight now, and her waist and shoulders are level and even,” he said. “I’ve never heard of headaches being cured by scoliosis surgery, but by taking care of Taryn, we may have discovered something new and interesting!”