Spinal curvature results in surgery, but current sophomore Megan McKinney continues to pursue athletic endeavors

By Journalism I student Lucy Miller, ‘22

You’re lying in a hospital bed surrounded by loving family members. You see faces of doctors, parents, siblings, all saying encouraging words, wishing you luck. You feel your heart starting to race when a nurse arrives to take you into surgery. You hear the hustle and bustle of the hospital; the smell of latex gloves burns your nose as the nurse rolls you into the operating room.

The surgeons ask you friendly questions about school, sports, and family until finally, someone puts a mask on your face and asks you to count down from ten. Ten. Nine. Eight. Seven…….

Megan McKinney

Image courtesy Megan McKinney

Twelve-year-old Megan McKinney was at her doctor’s office for a routine check up when the doctor noticed a slight curve in the alignment of her spine. After countless X-rays and several consultations, the doctors and her family came to a consensus. McKinney would have an eight-hour surgery that could save, end, or completely change her life.

Though she faced overwhelming obstacles and was scared out of her mind through most of it, McKinney never gave up. She now plays two sports, takes part in various extracurricular activities, and goes on the way any average teenager would. 

When they first learned of her diagnosis, McKinney’s parents were troubled. They cared for their daughter so much, and knowing that her life could be at risk worried them. Her mother has always been known to worry about anything and everything. 

“My mom was definitely extremely worried about me,” McKinney said. “As she always was.”

Though her parents had never been more terrified, McKinney herself did not feel the same. Being someone who normally has a level head, she acted as if it wasn’t an issue. 

“I was just like, it is what it is, what’s meant to be will be,” McKinney explained

X-ray shows Megan McKinney's curvature of the spine. Image courtesy Megan McKinney

X-ray shows Megan McKinney’s curvature of the spine at age 13. Image courtesy Megan McKinney

Time flew by, and her condition only worsened. Two years after the initial diagnosis, when McKinney was in eighth grade, she headed in for another X-ray. 

“[The doctors] said it was too late for a back brace to do anything so it wouldn’t have helped or fixed it.” McKinney said. “And it wasn’t gonna get any better and it wasn’t staying the same.” Surgery was her only option. 

They set the surgery date for Dec. 19, 2017, the very last possible date available that year. For the six months before, McKinney continued with monthly X-rays and regular checkups with her doctors. Her last checkup before the surgery was when the doctors actually informed her and her family of what was going to happen. 

“[The doctors] explained the whole procedure and the whole process and my whole family was there and we asked a ton of questions.” McKinney recalled. She was told that her surgery was an eight-hour procedure, and that they would make an incision from the base of her neck to her mid-lower back. They also explained the use of titanium rods, which would be screwed into her spine to keep it straight. 

Throughout all of her X-rays, and all of her consultations, she never thought much about the weight of the situation. However, the night before the surgery, it hit her all at once. 

“Out of nowhere, I started kinda, freaking out,” she joked. 

One thing that did help to calm her nerves were the positive messages she received from her peers. Snapchats, emails, texts, from everyone in her school all wishing her luck and hoping she would get well soon.

“I got so many from people I barely knew and it was actually so sweet.” McKinney gushed. With all of the positive thoughts on her mind she was able to sleep soundly that night.

The next morning, waking at 6 a.m., McKinney and her family headed to the hospital. The nerves picked up again and McKinney found herself more and more anxious the closer to the hospital they got. 

“When I got there and I was like sitting in the room, I was freaking out and I started crying,” McKinney said “Cause there was a chance of me being paralyzed, and I was terrified of that.”

Hours later, she found herself in a weird hallway with others who had just returned from surgery. Finally the nurse rolled her back to her room and she was reunited with her family. 

Though all seemed well, there was still a long road to recovery. McKinney had missed over a month of school, and had to hire a tutor to help her keep up in her classes. 

“I only had to keep up with my high school classes which were German, Physical Science, and Algebra,” McKinney explained, “So I didn’t have to worry about any of my other classes.”

Having had a major surgery on her spine, she wasn’t able to run, jump, or carry anything over five pounds for six months afterward. So when she finally returned to school, she had a roller backpack and had to take the elevator. 

Returning to sports after such a major change, seemed impossible as well. All of the other players has been playing for the months that she was out.

“Sometimes, with volleyball, when I would dive on the ground it would hurt so bad I would just never want to go back to practice like I just wanted to quit.” McKinney said. But she never gave up, and ended up making the team with no problem that fall. 

She transitioned into softball, and soon found herself putting the surgery completely out of her mind. She had pains here and there but it wasn’t keeping her from playing. Though it was never really forgotten, it became less prominent.

“It’s a, like a 15-inch incision from like, the top of my neck to my lower back. And that will probably be there for the rest of my life, like it’s slowly fading but it’s still gonna be there,” McKinney concluded. The scar, now permanently running down her spine, is a reminder of all that she went through. A constant reminder for her to never give up on herself.

You open your eyes to find yourself surrounded by family and friends who have been waiting for you. The smiles in the room are biggest you’ve seen in awhile and the doctor walks in. She says, “The surgery was a success, we expect a full recovery.”