Four. That’s the number of days it took for Nikki Clark to return home following scoliosis surgery at CHOC Hospital. Dr. Afshin Aminian, an internationally-recognized expert in pediatric orthopaedics and medical director of the CHOC Orthopaedic Institute, performed the surgery using the latest techniques and technology to minimize pain and yield the best outcome for his teen patient.
A customized approach to care
Nikki was among the first patients at CHOC to benefit from personalized spinal implants. Based on detailed measurements and perioperative planning, customized rods were created to the precise length and shape of Nikki’s spine. The goals of this approach are better alignment and accurate correction of the patient’s spine. Customized implants and patient-specific rods decrease surgical time. In addition, they have the potential to improve recovery time and minimize future problems related to scoliosis.
“Our specialists have fine-tuned the most innovative, effective treatments for scoliosis, with a focus on maximizing each patient’s ability to function, grow and enjoy quality of life,” says Dr. Aminian. “Most of our patients are active teens, who are eager to return to their sports and activities. We want to do everything we can to help them do that.”
Making the jump
A swimmer and competitive water polo player, Nikki was thrilled to hear Dr. Aminian’s approach to care. Less than a year after being diagnosed, she decided to pursue surgery rather than wait. Her focus: being ready for the upcoming season.
“I knew my life was going to get busy and really wanted to make sure I could play water polo during my junior and senior years. I wasn’t afraid of the surgery or the pain. I was more worried about not being able to play,” explains Nikki.
The morning of her surgery, Nikki began feeling anxious; not scared, as she pointed out to the child life specialist who came to check on her in pre-op. “I knew I had the best doctor, at the best hospital in California, and was ready to get the surgery over and done,” recalls Nikki.
A few hours after surgery, Nikki was surprised she wasn’t experiencing as much pain as she anticipated. The next day, a physical therapist helped her sit up for the first time. “It felt so good to finally be able to move,” says Nikki, who also enjoyed ordering milk shakes from CHOC’s room service menu. The chocolate banana one was her favorite.
She continued to follow all the guidelines, including getting out of bed to walk. Her physical therapist and nurses were among her biggest cheerleaders, praising her for quickly reaching the milestones required for her to go home. On Nikki’s fourth day at CHOC, Dr. Aminian proudly announced she was going home.
Nikki’s recovery at home continued to progress at a record pace. A month later, she returned to school. Two months later, she was back as a junior life guard in Newport Beach. The determined athlete surprised everyone by finishing the “monster mile,” which includes running a mile and swimming a mile. By the end of summer, she had also completed eight jumps off the pier.
Back in competitive water polo, Nikki proudly shows off her surgical scar. She’s been approached by other players, who have scoliosis. She encourages them to “make the jump.” “You’re strong and in great shape. You can handle surgery,” she tells them.
CHOC Hospital was named one of the nation’s best children’s hospitals by U.S. News & World Report in its 2020-21 Best Children’s Hospitals rankings and ranked in the orthopedics specialty.