St Helens schoolgirl conquers Snowdon just weeks after major spine op
1 month ago
A St Helens schoolgirl has conquered Snowdon less than three months after major surgery to correct an 80-degree curve in her spine.
Alice Cuttress, 13, from Newton-le-Willows, underwent the gruelling nine-hour operation at Alder Hey in November after being diagnosed with scoliosis which causes twisting or curvature of the backbone and can lead to paralysis and even be life-limiting.
Dad Dave says he’s never heard a scream like it when Alice first stood up after the procedure to reconstruct her spine and support it with two metal rods either side: “It was heartbreaking to know she was in so much pain,” he says.
And yet this month, the intrepid teenager scaled the 3,500ft Welsh Mountain with him and mum, Gemma – and celebrated at the top with a picnic with them and ‘best friend’ Ruby, the family’s three-year-old dachshund.
Dave says: “It was a huge challenge for Alice and, to be honest, we were a bit naughty because it was a week before we were told she could get back to physical exercise.
“But we knew she was up to it, and Alice was really excited and determined to do it.”
He adds: “It was quite emotional when we reached the top and considered what she had just achieved.
“But it’s been a massive part of her recovery. It’s given Alice her confidence again, and it’s brought back her smile.”
Alice was only 10 when the family first noticed something was wrong: “It was March 2020, and her mum was brushing her hair and noticed she was hunched over, and there was a big lump protruding from her right shoulder.
“It was obvious something wasn’t right.
“Normally I’m the panicker,” says Dave, 45, a joiner, “but I could see Gemma was panicked too. She took a couple of photos on her phone and sent them to her school mums WhatsApp group to ask if they thought she should be concerned and one of the mums who works as a paediatric physiotherapist suggested it could be scoliosis and advised us to contact the GP.
“Obviously, it was the start of the pandemic so we were unable to see a doctor for a diagnosis, although we did have a phone consultation which almost confirmed her condition. Then we were told to sit tight until restrictions were eased and we could get in for a proper consultation.”
In June Alice’s condition was confirmed by X-rays at Alder Hey.
“We had a meeting with Dr Munigangaiah who would eventually become Alice’s surgeon, and he was amazing. He explained everything to us, so we understood what was going to happen, and how Alice’s curvature was caused through rapid growth spurts.
“There are various treatments for scoliosis from back braces to surgery, but as Alice’s curvature was over 50 degrees only surgery could correct it. We were put on an 18-month waiting list with Alder Hey – and by time Alice had her operation the curvature was at 80 degrees!
“Although it caused her pain Alice didn’t let it stop her doing anything, but it did affect her confidence and her mood.
“To hear that our daughter required spinal surgery was terrifying. But we knew her curve would only worsen in time and cause her tremendous discomfort and pain, and even threaten her life if she didn’t have it.
“Thankfully we had total faith in Dr Munigangaigh and Alder Hey – but November 21, when she had the op, was a long day.”
Alice, who has two sisters, Eloise, nine, and Harriet, seven, spent six days in hospital after a successful operation – adding three-and-a-half inches to her height – before embarking on her recovery.
“The hard road to recovery started the day after surgery, Alice was encouraged to sit up in bed which she found really challenging, the following day they wanted her out of bed and sat in a chair, and the day after that she was expected to walk to the toilet which brought screams I’ve never heard,” exclaims Dave. “But she did it with such bravery and determination.”
Alice took things steadily and began phased return to her school, Hope Academy, in January.
And then came the decision to climb Snowdon.
Dave explains: “I walk a lot and Gemma used to joke about me always disappearing up mountains, so when I was planning to walk up Snowdon she said she’d come with me. We had arranged baby-sitters for the girls, but the Alice said she wanted to come too.
“She was doing well so, although apprehensive, we agreed. We chose the miners’ track up which isn’t the easiest route – it’s quite challenging – but it’s one I know. To be honest we didn’t think she would make it, but we’d said we could turn back at any stage if it got too much… but Alice made it right to the top.
“She was shattered afterwards but knowing she had done it made her realise that she was, and would be, okay; and that she wasn’t going to damage or hurt herself if she got back to activity.
“Alice’s confidence was really knocked before she had the op and we’ve seen it come right back (she even decided she could start PE again at school) and that’s been amazing.
“The difference between before and now is like chalk and cheese, and it’s great to see Alice’s smiling again. It’s like we’ve got our daughter back and, after Snowdon, she’ll face everything like she did that, head on.”