UAE: Emirati teen with scoliosis beats the odds, inspires hope

18-year-old pens a book to share her experience during Scoliosis Awareness Month

Dubai: Hejoon Al Zeyoudi is mature beyond her years. At 18, the Emirati teen is on a mission. She is out to spread hope by sharing her story of resilience and determination to beat the odds. Diagnosed with scoliosis when she 11 years old, Hejoon struggled with the medical condition, characterised by a sharply curved spine, for years.

“My shoulders were not even and I could not stand straight. My self-confidence as a result was also extremely low,” she recalled. But seven years on, she is a completely different person. Having gone through a life-changing recovery, she has written a book titled Raghma Shaook Al Hayat (Despite the Thorns of Life) in which she talks about her inspiring experience.

“This month (June) is all about raising awareness about scoliosis and I wanted to put my story out there, so others in my situation can benefit from it. Through my story, I want to tell others that nothing is impossible, and when challenges come our way, they should be seen as blessings that can help us become stronger,” she said. A Fujairah resident, Hejoon is doing her first year of aerospace engineering at Khalifa University of Science and Technology in Abu Dhabi. It’s a commute she can easily take today, thanks to a surgical intervention. Hejoon says her family first noticed the repercussions of her disorder when she was around 11. Her uneven shoulders and awkwardness to stand straight prompted them to seek medical advice. She was diagnosed with a curvature in her spine and was recommended physiotherapy and specific exercises such as swimming and climbing. The physiotherapy sessions did her little good to her though. Hejoon said doctors found that her curvature only worsened. What followed was a lot of trauma for Hejoon – and her family. Looking forthe right medical help, they were referred to Dr. Firas Husban, Consultant Orthopedic Surgeon at Burjeel Hospital for Advanced Surgery in Dubai. A specialist in spine surgery, Dr. Husban came highly recommended. Dr Husban, who thoroughly examined Hejoon, concluded that she needed immediate surgery, which the family readily agreed to. The procedure was carried out successfully, without any complications.

As Dr Husban said, “Hejoon was diagnosed with adolescent idiopathic scoliosis. X-rays indicated a double curve in her spine, with the thoracic curve reaching 39 degrees and the thoracolumbar curve measuring 43 degrees. But when I first met her, her eyes radiated hope for recovery. I resolved to support her in every way possible.”

He explained how scoliosis is a progressive condition marked by the sideways curvature and rotation of the spine in a “C” or “S” shape. It affects individuals in three dimensions and can manifest anywhere along the spine. It may involve one, two, or even three curves. He said in most cases, the cause of scoliosis is unknown and it cannot usually be prevented. However, the condition can be improved with treatment or surgery. Adolescent idiopathic scoliosis accounts for approximately 80 per cent of cases, according to Hejoon. It typically emerges during puberty, between the ages of 10 and 12, and is more prevalent in girls, occurring seven to 10 times more frequently than in boys. Hejoon said her attempt to share her story with the world is aimed at encouraging others to make choices that empower them.

“I just want to tell people never to lose hope. After enduring the trials of scoliosis, I stand proud today,” she said.

Her parents are equally proud of her.

“Our daughter went through a lot, but we were immensely grateful that she was eligible for this transformative procedure. She was able to move just a day after the surgery. We are thankful that the doctors could bring this life-changing surgery to our region,” they said.

What is scoliosis?

Scoliosis is a sideways curvature of the spine. In most cases, the cause is unknown and it cannot usually be prevented. Though scoliosis itself is painless, the normal age-related degeneration of the spine may lead to symptoms. A scoliosis curve cannot get straight on its own. Bracing helps in mild cases but surgery is considered the best option for severe deformities. While most people suffer from a mild form of scoliosis, the disorder can sometimes lead to severe complications if untreated. They include: Breathing issues as the rib cage may press against the lungs. Back pain, especially if the curvatures are large and untreated. Poor appearance because hips and shoulders are uneven, ribs protruding, and the waist and trunk tilted to one side.

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