From the age of 11, she wore a back brace for 7 1/2 years to correct a medical condition called scoliosis, in which a person’s spine is curved from side to side. The only time she took it off was to play golf and for the rest of the 18 hours in a day, she went to school in, ate in, and even slept in a back brace.
At 18, she was granted a golf scholarship by the University of Arkansas. But her joy proved to be short-lived as she was informed by her doctors that the brace hadn’t done enough. The curvature in her spine measured more than 40 degrees and would require surgery. Stacy thought that she might never play golf again.
She postponed her freshman year at Arkansas, had a surgery to place a titanium rod and 5 screws her back, and after several months of near immobility and 6 months of rehabilation, she began slowly swinging a club again. Her determination and fighting spirit saw her earn her way back into the University of Arkansas women’s golf team and in 2007, Stacy became the NCAA champion and the #1 amateur in the country.
Four years later and with a LPGA Major title to her name, the 26-year-old Ohioan is using her status as one of the shining lights on the women’s circuit to good use, acting as a global ambassador for the Scoliosis Research Society (SRS) and spreading the word on the importance of early detection of scoliosis among children.
Lewis, who is in Malaysia for Sime Darby LPGA this week, took some time off after her practice round today to speak to some scoliosis patients and their families about her own battle against scoliosis and the important of early detection of the condition.
“My surgeon gave me the option of waiting a couple of years till I finished college. I guess it was one of the hardest decisions for me to go ahead with the surgery because my back never really hurt me, it never really bothered me. But one of the more important things for me to go on with the surgery was more for my quality of life. I wanted to be able to get out of bed when I’m 50 years old without my back hurting.
“It was never about pain, it was never about now but who I was going to be in the future. It was about taking care of the problem now, doing it while you’re young as it heals quicker. Look and me now, I don’t have to worry about it for the rest of my life,” said Lewis, who defied the odds to lift the Kraft Nabisco Championship in April this year.
She also had some words of support and hope for young scoliosis patients and urged them to look at her as a role model. “One thing that I wished when I was growing up with scoliosis was that I wasn’t so worried about it, worried about other people knowing about it.I was so concerned that everyone could see that my back was crooked and that it wasn’t straight. Just be okay with it and it’s not such a big deal and don’t be afraid if you have to go through surgery because in six month, you’re going to find and it’s not the end of the world.
“I thought my life would be over after that surgery, I never imagined at that point that I would ever golf again. I don’t know why we think like that but we do and it shouldn’t be the case. Scoliosis has opened up so many doors for me, I get to go to some really cool places and meet some really amazing people. It just made me a stronger person, it’s made me who I am today,” she added.
Pantai Medical Centre consultant orthopaedic surgeon Harwant Singh urged parents to come forward if they have doubts about their children’s backs. “You don’t suffer from scoliosis, you get diagnosed with scoliosis. Don’t shy away and get a doctor’s opinion. My message will always be go out, detect it early, tie them up or brace them up. If it doesn’t work or reprogresses, then consider the option of surgery. But it should be a case that the patient sees the doctor for the first time when its 50 degrees or 60 degrees. That’s where most of our patients come in,” he explained.
Another panellist, Associate Professor Kwan Mun Keong of the Department of Orthopaedic Surgery at the University of Malaysia also stressed on the importance of public awareness, so has to eliminate the stereotypes and misconceptions commonly about scoliosis.
“Despite how hard we try to educate our patients and their families, they are still very conservative or careful, if I may use that word and the misconception that scoliosis patients are different or abnormal after surgery still persists. Believe us and Stacy can testify to that, that post surgery, scoliosis patients can enjoy a normal and productive life and we need no better example than this talented young lady to vouch for that,” he shared.
The seminar organised by the local chapter of the SRS was hosted by Royal Sporting House, the exclusive distributor of Mizuno in Malaysia.