PEKIN — Jill Davis-Forgy’s battle with scoliosis over the past three decades has given her firsthand insight into the challenges of living with the condition and the importance of early detection.

“Early detection is so important,” said Davis-Forgy. “I pray one day they will be able to cure (scoliosis) as soon as it is diagnosed. I’ve talked to many people in situations like mine, or even worse, and my heart goes out to all of them.”

The Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn., defines scoliosis as a sideways curvature of the spine that occurs most often during the growth spurt just before puberty. 

“It’s important to detect it early because if it’s caught at the right time, there are conservative treatments that can stop it from getting worse,” said Dr. Jeff Akeson, chairman of the Orthopedics Department at OSF St. Francis. “The time to catch it is age 9 to 11. That’s when it starts to appear. 

Most cases are mild, correctable by wearing back braces, Akeson added. However, some children develop spine deformities that continue to get more severe as they grow. Davis-Forgy’s case proved to fall into the latter category. 

“I wore a back brace going through puberty to stop the progression of my curvature,” she said. “My spine stayed at bay with only a couple of degrees increasing until around my early to mid-30s. I noticed my hip protruding worse, and I couldn’t cope as well with being on my feet all day, work and caring for my children.”

Anti-inflammatory medication, a regimen of special stretches, and therapy helped Davis-Forgy, now 48, maintain her quality of life until a few years ago, when her scoliosis took a dramatic turn for the worse. She has a curvature over a 75-angle of her spine.

“In February, I lost 25 pounds, making my weight 80 pounds,” she said. The pressure of my spine on my mid-esophagus has made it a struggle to eat. Most days, especially with the colder weather, the left side of my back swells up after being on my feet for only 15 minutes.”

Davis-Forgy’s long battle with scoliosis has brought her not only physical pain, but emotional turmoil as well. When her condition worsened, she said, she was forced to quit working, which was damaging both to her sense of self-worth and her family’s income. 

“It’s also hard not being able to make plans with loved ones for the foreseeable future,” Davis-Forgy added. “Scoliosis has taken over 60 percent of my quality of life. I’ve been sent to various surgeons, to no avail.”

Informed that her last hope of correcting her spine was with the Mayo Clinic, Davis-Forgy submitted her medical information to the facility and managed to make an appointment for late November. Unfortunately, the OSF Lifeline helicopter that was to fly her to Minnesota for the appointment was grounded due to inclement weather. She is hoping to reschedule her appointment but is waiting until the end of winter and a break in the weather. Meanwhile, she has already made plans on what she will do when her health is restored.

“I want to go around to local schools and talk about scoliosis awareness,” Davis-Forgy said. “It’s crucial to test children for scoliosis early because now it can be detected at an earlier age through screening. There are 16 states that require scoliosis screening when a child goes to school. Illinois is not one of them, so you have to be sure to mention the screening to your doctor.”