Scoliosis is a scary word for most middle schoolers.
The disease, which is a curvature of the spine, affects one out of every 10 people, according to Mallory Daniel, 15, Miss Lake Lanier Outstanding Teen 2012.
Daniel knows full well. The freshman at Evans High School in East Georgia was diagnosed with scoliosis in sixth grade. Her curve is now 33 degrees, and she goes to the doctor every four months to check its progress.
"When I was diagnosed, one of the main things I remember about it is not knowing about it. I was completely terrified. I searched scoliosis on Google to kind of know what was wrong with me. Of course Google gave me the worst cases so I was scared to death ... but once we looked into it and went to the doctor, we saw it was nothing to be afraid of," Daniel said. "Since it's so common I found it important that people do know about it because it's very common among teenagers."
She made scoliosis awareness her pageant platform and now travels to different classrooms across the state, sharing her story and telling students how to prepare for a scoliosis screening. She stopped in Thursday to speak to health classes at North Hall Middle School, to start her platform in the city where she was crowned.
Every year seventh- and eighth-graders statewide are screened for scoliosis unless their parents don't give permission, said Mamie Coker, health services coordinator for Hall County Schools. Both Gainesville and Hall County students will be screened in the coming weeks.
For the North Hall Middle students who agree to be screened, Daniel is providing an added incentive: a coupon for free food from Chick-fil-A.
During a scoliosis screen, a licensed nurse observes the shoulders, waist and spine while the student bends over as if to touch the toes.
There are several different types of scoliosis, usually some degree of an "S" or "C" curve in the lumbar or thoracic region of the spine, Coker said. These show up on X-rays with the spine curved like the alphabet letter the bend is named for.
"The curvature can be so severe that your internal organs, like your lungs, can be compressed," Coker said. "It can cause cardiac issues."
Emi Hughes, the health teacher at North Hall Middle whose classes Daniel visited, revealed to students she had an "S" curve for most of her life.
Hughes and her sister were both diagnosed with scoliosis at age 5. She ended up having spinal fusion surgery when she was 15, after wearing a brace for 10 years.
"My doctor put it to me like this: ‘You don't have to have the surgery. But by the time you hit age 45, you probably won't be living,'" she told her class.
"Basically the way my spine was progressing, it was just going to continue to go out and cause a lot of lung damage."
Though Hughes' curve was noticed at a doctor's appointment, most cases are noticed at school screenings because it's not a required part of physicals, Coker said. Even then, most students don't go for annual physicals unless they play a sport. They only go to the doctor when they're sick.
"Even students that go for regular checkups, we have picked them up on a screen because curvatures can occur early on in a growth spurt," Coker said.
Girls have a higher chance of ofeloping scoliosis than boys. For those who are diagnosed, most do not have to have any treatment at all, just doctors monitoring their spines on a regular basis.
The back braces available now are virtually invisible and only severe cases have to be corrected with surgery, Daniel said.
She said teenagers who play sports have nothing to worry about with scoliosis: exercise keeps the back muscles strong to support the spine.
"People with scoliosis tend to pick at themselves even more because it can affect your posture ... or even trying on clothes it's something you can notice," Daniel said.
"I know self-confidence can be an issue in middle schools. ... Someone with scoliosis can be just as beautiful as anyone without it."