Crooked smile: Hailey Scuito lives with scoliosis, doesn’t fight against it

Hailey Scuito sits in her bedroom with her back brace on playing a video game. Photo by Reann Salazar.

Sitting on the soft, long, light brown couch surrounded by neutral-tone throw pillows and big fluffy blankets, the fluorescent lighting seems to surround us, leaving parts of the room dim and messy. Hailey Scuito sits with one leg crossed, the other one hanging off as she slouches looking off into the distance where the TV and gaming consoles are placed. She’s wearing a black over-sized sweatshirt engulfing most of her figure and loose, light grey sweatpants with mismatched socks. From the looks of it, no one could have guessed she’s been living with scoliosis for almost a year. 

Freshman Hailey Scuito found out she had scoliosis during her eighth grade physical. Scoliosis is a sideways curvature of the spine that occurs most often during the growth spurt just before puberty. Her doctor had warned her two years prior that she had a slight curve in her spine but that it wasn’t too serious and still recommended that they go to a specialist to make sure. She found out that she had a moderate curve, of 33%. 

“When I went to get checked up, I was surprised … I never noticed anything,” Hailey says as she faces forward, staring off at the TV’s black screen. One leg is still crossed, the other hanging off swinging back and forth quickly, as if trying to tap her toes on the light grey carpet. Her hands in front of her torso, resting on her lap. 

X-ray of Hailey Scuito’s spine. Photo by Hailey Scuito.

Walking over to the light beige couch in front of the tall window, the sunlight bounced off Debra Vanderploeg, Hailey’s mother, the warm glow of the sun fills the room in slices due to the chunky blinds covering most of the window. 

“I just felt awful for her … if I could sit there and say, ‘give me the scoliosis and take it away from her [I would],” Debra says, pausing. She sighs and as her shoulders rise and then fall, her small blue eyes covered by her eyelids, squinting, as if trying to remember the day she received the news about her daughter. She stretches out her arm getting comfortable in her seat. 

Hailey didn’t let the news of having scoliosis affect her outlook on it. Although she needed a scoliosis brace she wasn’t disappointed or upset in the slightest.

Eyes widening, her hands wave around as she explains that when she first found out she will need a brace she was nervous but excited something different would be a part of her life and seeing how it will help.

The brace is made of stiff plastic that fits around the torso from underneath the arms down to the hips, with velcro straps to tighten or loosen it. It’s supposed to straighten the spine and not let it get worse. Sometimes the spine will even correct itself depending on how much the patient wears it. 

Hailey Scuito stands in her bedroom with back brace on. Photo by Hailey Scuito.

When she is wearing her brace, Hailey is restricted in certain ways. She can’t easily pick things off the ground or freely maneuver around, to name a few. Especially when it is tight, it hurts her to sigh, take deep breaths, even yawn. Caused by the brace, she will need to take it off to do many physical activities.

“Any kind of outdoor activities where I move around a lot like when I went to camp I barely wore it because I was moving around so much and I was always walking around, and if I wore the brace the entire time there I probably would have had a lot of pain,” Hailey says, gesturing her hands in the air then letting them fall on her lap.

The brace although good and helpful, has it’s cons to it.

“I’ll be sitting there and it’ll feel like something stabbing my side,” Hailey says, touching her hip which was swallowed by her sweatshirt and the couch.  

She adds that when she wears the brace it will sometimes be itchy and uncomfortable to a point where she has to run to the bathroom to take it off. 

The brace is a crucial part for Hailey to get better, because it’s hard to be so compact all the time, so she has a system of when to take off and put on the brace, and sometimes people just need to remind her. 

Hailey needs the brace if her spine is going to get better and possibly even correct itself. If it doesn’t she may need surgery.

“I would consider getting the surgery because I would like to have a normal body,” says Hailey shifting her body in a different position, uncrossing her leg, leaving both dangling off the couch. “I’d rather get the surgery than live with a messed up spine for the rest of my life.”

The surgery will consist of inserting a metal rod into the patient’s back. But Hailey must have at least a 45 degrees or higher to be able to get the surgery.

“I just want her to be able to …” Debra pauses, searching for the right words to say, “… do everything she can do without pain,” Debra finishes.

Hailey doesn’t let people’s questions and curiosities get the better of her. She often explains to people her condition with ease and intelligence.  

“I would consider getting the surgery because I would like to have a normal body,” says Hailey shifting her body in a different position, uncrossing her leg, leaving both dangling off the couch. “I’d rather get the surgery than live with a messed up spine for the rest of my life.”

— freshman Hailey Scuito

“When I first had the brace I didn’t really care what people thought of it… I don’t care what people think, it’s a part of me,” Hailey says and stops tapping her foot and sits still, serious, the harsh light bouncing off her of face. 

Hailey isn’t ashamed of her brace or her condition. She doesn’t let it stop her from doing things and going places, like riding her bike or going to the mall. Although she isn’t able to express herself as often through fashion, she will wear an outfit that shows off her brace. 

“I think it hasn’t affected her in a great way, it’s something that’s cumbersome, something she has to do different from everyone else,” Debra says, gesturing her hands to emphasize her words then bringing her left arm back onto the light beige couch, the room brightly lit as she continues. 

“I love the fact that she’ll wear a button down and her brace is showing,” Debra says, flipping her short blonde hair then cocking her head back to push it out of her face. Her smile is small but noticeable, then quickly falls back to her natural state. 

Through all the uncomfort, pain, and limitations, Hailey doesn’t let her scoliosis prevent and discourage her from enjoying life. Hailey braces what life throws at her and she doesn’t get bent out of shape about it. 

Reann Salazer is a staff writer for Oswego East High School’s online news magazine the Howl

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