When she was little, Rochelle Canfield says she had no idea something was wrong.
"Looking back at school pictures, my hair was uneven," she said. "I mean, you don't notice the little things and now going back, my mom and I were like - How did we not notice?"
In fact, it wasn't until a sports physical in junior high that doctors even noticed.
"It happened in 2007 for my seventh-grade track meet," Rochelle recalled. "It was the first time I went to play sports and I didn't stick with it. I quit like halfway through, but I went for my track physical and I passed all the tests, except when they told me to bend over and touch my toes."
"They noticed that my shoulder blade was uneven and a couple months later, I was seeing Dr. Pyevich and scheduling for back braces."
Rochelle had scoliosis, a condition that's common for girls between the ages of 10 and 14. It's also a condition with no known cause.
"We don't know what causes it," said Dr. Mike Pyevich with ORA Orthopedics. "One of these days - I don't know if it'll be in my lifetime or not - when we do have all of the genes and chromosomes mapped in the Human Genome Project, we probably will find out what chromosome is involved or how many genes are involved, but it's probably very complex, because we can't really figure out a rhyme or reason for the inheritance pattern. It can skip a generation and a lot of times when kids come in, there's no history of Scoliosis."
Dr. Pyevich is the only pediatric orthopedist in the bi-state region. He said Rochelle's case was a difficult one.
"When people stand up, we try to keep our head centered over our pelvis," explained Dr. Pyevich. "We don't think about that, but that's what our spine does. We don't walk around being off balance, but Rochelle was actually very off balance. Her head was not centered over her pelvis. Her head was to the side and her shoulders were very unbalanced."
Three years in two different back braces wasn't enough for Rochelle. She had to have surgery, but first, everyone had to wait until she was done growing.
"Scoliosis will worsen as the child grows and a lot of times that's nothing for a girl," said Dr. Pyevich. "But if you have somebody that you are seeing at age 10 and they already have a 45-degree curve, that curve is something that's going to require surgery because that girl has a lot of growth left and that curve will worsen."
"Scoliosis can worsen a degree or two per month when you're in your growing years so it can get worse by 10-20 degrees a year."
"I was so upset that I was not going to be able to drive for three months and it was my summer," said Rochelle. "I was laid down the whole summer of 2010 and I wasn't allowed to do gym for a year and people had to carry my textbooks. I'm such an independent person, but then on the other hand, I knew it was to make me feel better and to correct something that needed to be corrected."
When the day finally came, Dr. Pyevich spent hours straightening Rochelle's back. He compared the surgery with braces that straighten teeth:
"We put a fixation point of either a screw or a hook on most vertebrae and then we connect those with a rod, but the straightening is immediate as opposed to your teeth where it's not," Dr. Pyevich said.
Rochelle made a full recovery and says the procedure changed her life.
"I think back and think if I hadn't had surgery, I would have been so uncomfortable," she said. "Your organs are squished, you can't walk. It's uncomfortable to walk, you're out of breath."
Five years after her surgery, Rochelle is getting ready to graduate from Blackhawk College and turn her experience into a career by becoming a Radiologist.
"I had MRIs done," she explained. "I had CT scans done. I had obviously 20 million x-rays done, and it was just something so fascinating; and I honestly kind of wanted (to study) something that kind of relates back to my scoliosis."
"If she stays in the Quad City Area, we're always looking for good ones here," hinted Dr. Pyevich.
"The reason why I wanted to go into radiology was because the people at ORA were so welcoming," added Rochelle. "I mean, I was a 15-year-old girl who had been told she needed surgery, and their smiling faces almost made the experience better."
Dr. Pyevich says many schools have done away with scoliosis screenings, so he says it's up to parents and family doctors to check and see if something looks wrong.
"If you see any kind of asymetry in the shoulders or just something doesn't look right," he said. "I mean, most pediatricians, most family practice doctors, are very good about checking people. But, every now and then, somebody does slip through if they haven't been to the doctor in a long time."
*Let’s Move QC is a monthly segment on WQAD. It’s all about being the best version of you by introducing viewers to real people in the Quad Cities who are doing just that, with a little extra help from the surgeons at ORA Orthopedics. The stories air every month (usually the last Monday of the month) during News 8 at 5 p.m.