CHESTERFIELD TOWNSHIP, Mich. – Rayeann Deriemacker was just a kindergartner when her pediatrician first spotted signs of scoliosis.
“Rayeann was 5, and we were doing her wellness visit with her pediatrician,” her mother, Michelle Deriemacker, said. “And he was like, ‘I really think there’s a possibility here that she has scoliosis.’”
Scoliosis is a condition that causes the spine to abnormally curve sideways, into an “S” or a “C” shape. There are varying degrees of severity, but noticing the red flags is the critical first step.
“Her curve was about 35 degrees, so it was already pretty severe,” Deriemacker said.
In some children, doctors can simply keep an eye on the spine as they grow.
Others, like in Rayeann’s case, will need a brace to stop or slow down the progression. She admits it was challenging sometimes.
“It’s like a hard plastic around your whole body. It’s very uncomfortable,” Rayeann said. “It was quite hard from the back braces and wearing it to school and sleeping in it and all day everyday.”
But Rayeann didn’t let it stop her from leading an active life, even competing in dance for several years.
“Her curve still did progress, but it progressed slower. So by the time she did have to have surgery, she was at a 75 degree curve, and it was starting to impact her lungs and her breathing,” Deriemacker said.
Dr. Ahmed Bazzi is Rayeann’s surgeon at Children’s Hospital of Michigan.
“All of the bracing that she had undergone, it bought her time so that when she was ready for surgery, it was really one-and-done surgery,” Bazzi said.
When Rayeann was 11 years old, she underwent a spinal fusion.
“It was a very intense time leading up to surgery,” Deriemacker said. “And then during surgery, we just held our breath and prayed and had faith in Dr. Bazzi.”
“Very scared,” Rayeann said. “I was worried that I wasn’t going to be able to go and do all of the things my friends were doing. I was going to be left out and not feel included anymore.”
Now 14, Rayeann says her family and good friends helped her through the long months of recovery.
“My one friend would FaceTime me every day at lunch in school, so I still got to see everyone and talk to everyone,” she said.
Rayeann can no longer dance like she used to, but she has a new love for volleyball and a deep appreciation for everything she’s overcome. That includes the scar that runs down her back.
“Many people do notice it, and some people ask questions, which I’m fine with telling them,” Rayeann said. “I feel like it’s more of like a sign that I was able to do that, and just remembering it. It’s cool.”
“I could not be more proud,” Deriemacker said. “It’s gonna make me cry. She’s done great. He gave her such a gift. He’s incredible. She’s incredible to go through the recovery. It was very tough.”
Scoliosis can affect all ages, but the most common age of onset is between 10 and 15 years old, when kids are growing quickly.
Bazzi said there are usually no symptoms, so it’s important to watch for signs.
“If you’re looking for signs of scoliosis, this is typically the season or the time to see it,” Bazzi said. “This is where boys and girls are in bathing suits or they’re outside or they’re playing in the sprinkler and then you can finally see their back. So we look for signs such as uneven shoulders, an elevated shoulder blade, a rib hump, so to speak, their hips or their sides are uneven or basically tilting one way or the other, or sometimes even their pelvis is a little bit uneven.”
There is concern that many cases of scoliosis could have been missed during the pandemic, when fewer children were seeing their pediatricians for well-child visits. Experts say this also highlights the importance of continuing annual visits once children are tweens or teens.
Rayeann’s mother hopes her story will raise awareness about scoliosis.
“Hopefully through her story, someone can catch it early, and they might not have to end up with the spinal fusion,” Deriemacker said.
Rayeann hopes sharing her experience can help encourage kids dealing with the challenges of scoliosis.
“Thinking back to when I had to have the surgery, there wasn’t really something I could look up on YouTube or just anything on social media,” Rayeann said. “Being able to show little kids, that it’s okay and it’s something that they can do.”