A few years back, I met an inspiring young patient named Manuel Rivas. He was a determined young man, but his advanced scoliosis was holding him back from fully participating in all of the activities he loved. He recently came back into my office and shared his incredible plans to join the Marines this year. I was so taken by his bravery and recovery that I wanted to share his story with you today.
As a kid, Manny was incredibly active and loved playing baseball with his friends. However, around the age of 13, he began experiencing severe pain that reduced his ability to participate in his favorite activities. He recalls, “It was so painful that if I was running around or training, I would have to sit or even lay down on the ground right afterward.” The most debilitating side effect of this pain was his inability to get enough good quality rest. Manny struggled to fall asleep and stay asleep nearly every night because of his immense pain and discomfort. Understandably, 13-year-old Manny considered sleepless nights the “worst part” of his condition.
Concerned for their son, Manny’s parents initially brought him to a chiropractor as well as his general practitioner. Recognizing that it was scoliosis, his doctor referred Manny to my office where my team immediately took x-rays following a brief consultation. The images revealed a 53-degree spinal curve as the source of his pain.
After talking through treatment options with the Rivas family, we determined that a spinal fusion was Manny’s best option to live a pain-free life. As a 13-year-old, Manny was understandably fearful of what surgery would require and what the outcome might be. “I was really scared,” he said. “I didn’t know what the surgery would feel like, and what my back would be like afterward.” We walked him and his family through the whole process of the surgery and recovery time to calm his nerves.
As expected, the surgery was successful and Manny began his road to a pain-free life. “I actually got three inches taller after the surgery, so that was a good side effect,” he says, laughing. Within the year, Manny was back to his former life, playing sports and working out in the gym at the same rate as before. “Getting up and going to the gym was my therapy,” Manny says. He also gained the confidence to begin pursuing his lifelong dream of joining the Marines.
“I always knew I wanted to play baseball or enlist in the military,” Manny says. “That’s what the men in my family do. As a kid, I looked up to all of them. I used to love playing with those little green army men,” he said. After surgery, both dreams were possible. Later this year, Manny will head off to boot camp to begin the process of becoming a Marine.
I’m thrilled to share that Manny is happily active and living a pain-free life – and he’s finally able to get a much needed good night’s sleep. It is a pleasure having Manny as a patient and I look forward to seeing him succeed as a Marine.
He shared some parting advice for kids like him who have to undergo spinal fusions: “Get the surgery as soon as possible. I promise it will all be worth it.”
A special thanks to Manuel Rivas for sharing his story with us and for his brave service to our country.