A Lakeland orthopedic surgeon is making a special effort to get the word out about scoliosis in children this month.

  • June is Scoliosis Awareness Month
  • Surgeon: Too many parents unaware of warning signs

Dr. Chukwuka Okafor with the Spine Institute of Central Florida says too many parents are unaware of the warning signs of the disorder.

"The shoulders are not even, the pelvis or the hips are not even, you may notice some difference in the gap between the arms and the torso," Okafor said.

Okafor said he performed the first ever pediatric scoliosis correction in Polk County in 2010, when he worked on Stephanie Ackloo. Ackloo was 15 years old at the time and describes her life now as "beautiful."

“I don’t have any pain," Ackloo said. "I don’t have nothing at all anymore.” 

Ackloo was diagnosed with scoliosis when she was 5 years old. She wore a brace for much of her childhood and was unable to dance and have fun like other children.

She said another doctor told her she was destined to spend the rest of her life in a wheelchair.

“It was very painful. I would not be able to walk a far distance,” Ackloo said.

Then she met Okafor, who recommended surgery because her curvature was at 55 degrees. Okafor said there are several treatment options depending on how much growth the child has remaining and the angle of curvature of their spine.

However, when someone’s curvature is greater than 40 degrees, he recommends scoliosis correction surgery.

Okafor said scoliosis often runs in the family, so it wasn’t a surprise when Stephanie's little sister, Emma Ackloo, had the disorder, too. She had scoliosis correction surgery in July of 2015 and said she feels a lot better.

“It was definitely worth it because if I did not get the surgery, I’d probably be suffering right now," Emma said. "I could’ve got worse every single day to the point where I couldn’t hold it anymore."

Both sisters admit that recovering from the surgery was long and painful. But they look forward to the rest of their lives, knowing they can do anything and their spine will not hold them back.

Okafor urges parents to take their kids to the doctor’s office if they believe their children might be showing warning signs. Left untreated, he said scoliosis can get progressively worse, and down the road lead to daily disabling pain and heart and lung problems.