After being diagnosed with scoliosis, this young racer from North Carolina underwent ASC by Drs. ABC, a transformative scoliosis surgery at the Institute for Spine and Scoliosis in New Jersey. The challenging recovery was met with resilience, as he quickly progressed from post-op mobility milestones to scuba-diving and racing his car within a year. This journey not only allowed him to resume all his beloved activities but also to thrive in them!
What was your reaction to the diagnosis?
“I was born in North Carolina; home of NASCAR! In March 2020, at the age of 13 yrs old, I started racing in the INEX league, driving a bandolero (“bando”) – which can reach speeds up to 75 mph on asphalt oval speedways. It’s the only sport I’ve tried that really doesn’t depend on my ability to run fast, jump high, or kick hard. This is an important fact to know, because since I was a child, my doctors have always told me I had a “constellation of musculoskeletal deformities” that would impact my ability to play sports. So, finding racing was the best thing that ever happened to me. That is, until my life was turned upside down only two months later.
What started out as a typical annual physical when I turned 14yrs old in May 2020, quickly changed as my doctor used a small instrument across my back. I could tell instantly something was wrong based on the expression from my mom. I remember my dad immediately making lots of phone calls and making appointments for me to get x-rays and be seen by a back specialist. A week later, that doctor formally diagnosed me with scoliosis but told my mom and dad that it would be better if I were cared for by a child scoliosis specialist. Over a period of about 3 months, my parents took me to see several scoliosis specialists and orthotists; including CHOP in Philadephia, Duke in Durham, and the National Scoliosis Center in Fairfax. Some doctors recommended putting rods in my back while others suggested wearing a brace and going to Schroth physical therapy. My parents talked to me about the pros and cons of each. I also spoke to several other kids and young adults who had the surgery (with rods) and a few that wore the brace. None of the options really made me feel positive. None of them gave me a sense of relief that I could be done and over it quickly without a significant impact to how I felt or looked. There was no easy decision to make.
With a lot of support from my mom and dad, I decided to wear the brace and do physical therapy. It required a lot of dedication; wearing the brace 21hrs a day (including when I slept) and going to therapy 2x/week. For some kids, this is enough to stop the curve from getting worse. But, for me, my curve increased to more than 50 degrees in only a year, because I hit a growth spurt and grew more than 4 inches in 3 months. This was a complete let down because I had worked so hard.
My orthotist recommended my parents look into some newer surgical approaches that no longer required rods and had shown better results in terms of mobility with fewer complications. My mom did some much reading that it consumed most of her days for the next two weeks. That’s when we found Dr Antonacci and the Institute for Spine and Scoliosis in New Jersey. Even still, the thought of surgery overwhelmed me with lots of questions going on in my head…about my scoliosis, about the scar, about the recovery, and about my ability to race.”
Was scoliosis impacting your life? If so, how?
“ Scoliosis had a huge impact on my life. I was always short of breath and tired easily. I could only walk a few blocks before starting to feel pain and weakness. I couldn’t lift anything heavy. And, the curve in my back was clearly visible to my friends anytime I went swimming or even just had a slight bend in my back (like riding bikes). The impact was just as much emotional as it was physical. Wearing the brace was also impactful, because it made it clear to others that something was wrong with me…that I had a limitation. I had to miss a lot of after school activities because I had to go to therapy 2x/week. So, yes, every aspect of scoliosis during this time was impactful to my life. ”
How did you hear of ASC By Drs. ABC?
“ Our orthotist at the National Scoliosis Center recommended we look into newer, alternative approaches to scoliosis surgery that did not require rods. He referenced Dr Antonacci’s history and the surgical advancements he continued to make over the years.
A few of the initial scoliosis surgeons made us aware of earlier advancements, such as tethering. However, most of them tried to quickly steer us away from these advancements since those surgeons really only had familiarity and comfort with the older approach of inserting rods and didn’t feel the benefits outweighed the risk. It wasn’t until our orthotist – who is the leading rigo cheneaux brace builder in the US – suggested we look into even newer approaches like ASC.”
Not sure what else to say other than Aidan destroyed the recovery period; fully supported by a fantastic team of PICU nurses, hospitalists, respiratory specialists, PTs, social workers, child life specialist; and of course the ISS team. We had a very clear roadmap of the recovery process, including pain and nausea management. There wasn’t a moment during the entire process that we felt disconnected from the entire team. And, this is coming from a family who spent the first 2 weeks of recovery in a hotel in NJ before returning home to NC for the remainder of the recovery period.
What was your recovery period experience like?
Below is a recount of specific milestones during recovery:
– Day 1 (Nov 15 ’21): Aidan went into surgery in the morning; and by the afternoon was moved to the PICU unit of St Peter’s University Hospital.
– Day 2 (Nov 16 ’21): Less than 24 hours after surgery, Aidan looked over at the nurse and said, “I want up. I want out of this bed right now.” The nurses looked at me, smiled, looked at him, and said, “let’s go!” With support from the nurses, he sat up, swung over, placed his feet on the floor, stood up and moved himself to the chair. But he wasn’t finished there. Later that afternoon, he wanted to go further – so they helped him up from the chair and he walked out of his room and walked down the PICU hall and back. For the remainder of his stay, the only reason he moved back to his bed was to sleep. For everything else, he was in his chair sitting upright.
– Day 3 (Nov 17 ’21): Recovery continued to go very well, so they removed Aidan’s chest/drainage tube, catheter, and an IV line in the morning; and he continued to make several passes down and back in the PICU halls…each time going a little further than before. He also started eating solid foods and began slowly transitioning from IV pain medications to orals.
– Day 4 (Nov 18 ’21): Aidan continued on the strong path to recovery. All IV lines were removed, he switched to all oral pain meds, he was fully able to stand and sit from his chair and walk down and back through the PICU hall on his own, and he even took several steps up the stairs (for practice).
– Day 5 (Nov 19 ’21): Aidan’s continued progress allowed him to be released from St Peter’s 4 days post reconstructive spine surgery. Because we live in N. Carolina, ISS requested that we stay close to the hospital for two more weeks during the recovery period. So, we mobilized to a long-term stay hotel 15 minutes from St Peter’s.
– Days 6-7 (Nov 20-21 ’21): As anticipated, the first two days physically away from our entire care team had its ups and downs with pain management. Probably the hardest nights of the entire recovery period. However, Dr C and Maddie continued to stay in touch with us the entire time. If we sent a text message with a question or request, one of them responded within a few minutes. But again, your first night getting acclimated to physically being without your care team and/or hospital bed is the roughest.
– Day 8 (Nov 22 ’21): 7-days post-surgery, Aidan returned to St Peter’s Hospital for his final check-up and x-ray with the surgical team and to have all his bandages removed. He refused to sit in a wheelchair and insisted in walking the whole time (nearly 2hrs). It was difficult, but he knew he couldn’t let up on the momentum. As a reward, we ordered and picked up a large cheese pizza just for him on the way back to the hotel. He ate it, took his meds, and crashed on the sofa for the rest of the afternoon. But, it was a victory! He was cleared.
– Day 9 (Nov 23 ’21): By this time, Aidan was walking up and down hallways, stairs, and in and out of vehicles. He had only a few more days before being allowed to return home to NC. The racing community had been so supportive of Aidan. From his NJ hotel room, he joined the Jack Dodson Racing Insider News FB podcast for an interview to talk about his road to recovery back to the track.
– Day 10 (Nov 27 ’21): Aidan reached another major milestone – checking out of his NJ hotel room and flying back home to Raleigh, NC.
Beyond Day 10, Aidan continued to push hard on his road to recovery.
– On Dec 29th, 2021, Aidan returned back to school
– On Jan 22nd, 2022, Aidan joined friends up the street for some snow sledding (he said it was only a little pain, but definitely worth the fun)
– On Mar 4th, 2022, Aidan stepped back into his red and black #38 bando for the first time and made a dozen practice laps (still some aches, but again, he said definitely worth it). Because he had grown so much during the recovery period, his whole car had to be reset and balanced. LOL
– On Mar 27th, 2022, Aidan competed in his first speedway race post-surgery, finishing 4th. This was definitely an “ouch” moment trying to get comfortable for long races…but the aches and pains continued to get less and less each time he got in his race car.
– On May 15th, 2022, Aidan took 6-month post-surgery x-rays with remarkable results. As expected, even back to full activities, his curves were holding firm at <9 degrees…the first real results showing the surgery was a success.
– On Jul 9th, 2022, Aidan’s recovery and return to racing is featured in a video and article by the Charlotte Motor Speedway.
– On Aug 22th, 2022, Aidan dawned a mask, fins, tanks, BCD, and a regulator; and re-certified as a PADI open water scuba diver. He then jumped from the back of a dive boat, diving to a depth of more than 60 feet and doing flips and other acrobatics underwater while swimming with sharks, turtles, and eagle rays in the Florida Keys. He continued to dive for 3 more days after.
November 15, 2022 represented his one-year anniversary since his reconstructive spine surgery. Life is far better than it was before; and the team at ISS is to thank for giving him this opportunity.
Have you resumed all activities?
All activities plus more!