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Teen raises awareness about scoliosis

Posted: June 25, 2013 - 4:09pm
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Elisabeth Harkins, 14, was diagnosed with scoliosis when she was 10. She started a support group that has members from all over Georgia and South Carolina.  SARA CALDWELL/STAFF
SARA CALDWELL/STAFF
Elisabeth Harkins, 14, was diagnosed with scoliosis when she was 10. She started a support group that has members from all over Georgia and South Carolina.

Elisabeth Harkins hopes that her efforts to raise awareness about scoliosis will lead parents to get their children screened for it early to prevent the need for surgery.

Scoliosis is a curvature of the spine and can be S-shaped or C-shaped. Elisabeth, 14, was diagnosed with scoliosis when she was 10 and has been wearing a brace since age 12. She has to wear the brace seven days a week, 23 hours a day.

When she went into a brace, her curves were at 33 degrees. If curves reach 40 degrees, doctors usually recommend surgery.

When Elisabeth was diagnosed, her grandmother Lisa Sistare-Harkins tried unsuccessfully to find a local support group for her. Then she came across Curvy Girls. There wasn’t a local chapter, but Elisabeth saw it as an opportunity.

“I said, ‘Why don’t we start one,’ ” the rising North Augusta Middle School eighth-grader said.

She created the Curvy Girls GA/SC chapter, which covers all of Georgia and South Carolina. Members hold most meetings online, said Sistare-Harkins. However, they hope that as word of the support group spreads more local members will join so there can be more in-person meetings.

Elisabeth didn’t want her outreach to stop there. As a Cadette in the Girls Scouts, she is working on her Silver Award and is using it as a platform to educate others about scoliosis.

“I decided to spread awareness for my Silver Award because I know it’s something worthy,” she said. “I want to raise awareness so that people can get their kids scanned at an early age because if they find out when they’re older, it could be too late and they’ll have to have surgery. Surgery takes a lot of money and a lot of recovery time.”

She has also written South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley to share her story and her goal of spreading awareness. Haley issued a proclamation earlier this month recognizing June as Scoliosis Awareness Month in South Carolina.

As part of her Silver Award project, Elisabeth is also collecting items through July for Young Friends of FOCOS. The Foundation of Orthopedics and Complex Spine provides orthopedic and spinal care to communities in Ghana and West Africa.

The items she collects will be given to children who are having surgery for scoliosis, she said. Items being collected include toothpaste, toothbrushes, bars of soap, coloring books, notebooks, pencils, paper, pens and socks.

Anyone interested in joining the support group or donating items or making a monetary donation for the collection can call (803) 270-1182 or send a message on the Curvy Girls GA/SC-Scoliosis Support Group’s Facebook page.

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