By Kate Scriven
Imagine a life with chronic back pain starting in middle school. Consider visiting countless doctors since early childhood, asking for answers as to why there was a pronounced curve in your back. And imagine if the answer you heard again and again was to “just sit up straight” and it would all go away. Olympia’s Jessica Matriotti doesn’t have to imagine this scenario. She lived it for most of her life.
Matriotti’s parents began to notice a “slump” in Jessica’s upper back when she was in elementary school. As any parent would, they took her to the doctor, asking what could be wrong. The answer they heard was the same time and again – Jessica just needed to sit up straight. “Hearing that again and again was so frustrating. I couldn’t make my back straighter. This was just how it was,” she recalls. Knowing there was more to it, her parents asked for x-rays. However, Matriotti was lying down during the procedure, making the abnormal curvature unnoticeable.
The pain began in middle school. It wasn’t all the time and she was able to manage. Matriotti’s pain increased as she entered high school and the curve of her upper back – “the slump” – became more pronounced. She graduated in 2004 from Olympia High School with pain so constant it was restricting her activity. Within a few years, the pain was so constant Matriotti would lie on the floor at work, straightening her spine as much as she could, easing the pain. “By the end of the day, I was always in a lot of pain, and I finally just couldn’t put up with it anymore,” shares Matriotti.
Again, she sought help. Her primary care physician referred Matriotti to Olympia Orthopaedic Associates for physical therapy and pain management with Dr. Abbott. Although Matriotti gave it her all, the interventions did little to ease her pain and nothing to straighten her increasingly curved spine.
“It was around the time that I was getting married that I talked with a friend who had recently had surgery with Dr. Clyde Carpenter at Olympia Orthopaedics. I told her ‘I’d love to look normal for my wedding.’ I had my primary care doctor refer me to Dr. Abbott,” explained Matriotti. Ultimately, she visited Oly Ortho again in September 2012 when the physical therapy wasn’t providing any more benefits. “I knew surgery was the next option and decided to it,” she said.
Matriotti’s next stop was the Olympia Orthopaedics Spine Center where she met with Dr. Andrew Manista. “I was diagnosed with Scheuermann Kyphosis,” Matriotti reports. “Everyone has a kyphotic curve [the outward rounding of the upper back below the neck]. Normal is 25 to 40 degrees. Mine was a 94 degree curve. Anything over 70 is considered very serious.” She learned, from Dr. Manista, that the condition is genetic and investigation, she realized people in her family also had pronounced kyphotic curves of the spine.
“It was a relief to hear a diagnosis after so many years of being told to just ‘sit up straight,’” Matriotti shares. Dr. Manista’s willingness to educate her about the surgery and condition was refreshing to Matriotti. “It was nice to have a doctor that actually had the patience to sit with you. He was willing to answer anything before going into surgery,” she explains. “I felt comfortable right from the beginning and wasn’t scared at all. In fact, I was really excited knowing that Dr. Manista had a plan and knew he could help me.”
On November 28, 2012, Matriotti was prepped for the five to six hour surgery performed by Dr. Manista, assisted by his Physician’s Assistant, Omar Gonzalez. Both health care providers visited several times to check on her during her six day stay at Capital Medical Center to assess pain and recovery.
The surgery left a 19-inch scar down Matriotti’s spine. Dr. Manista discovered that Matriotti’s vertebrae had fused over the years, requiring him to break her back in eight places. He and his team worked to straighten the deformity that had plagued Matriotti since childhood. Using two rods and 26 screws, her spine was fused from the T2 to L3 vertebrae. For the first time, Matriotti could truly “sit up straight.”
The recovery was tough, but she knew it was well worth it. She wore a back brace for 12 weeks followed the healing protocols, including sleeping in a recliner. One of the most difficult aspects was that Matriotti is the mother of a then two-year-old girl. “She was surprisingly understanding of why I couldn’t pick her up or play on the floor. We found other ways to play and it all worked out,” she adds.
Now, 18 months post-surgery Matriotti is living the life she only dreamed about before. “Olympia Orthopaedic Associates has helped me get my life in motion,” she states. “I’m able to actively participate in a circuit training class without pain and play with my daughter like I couldn’t before. Living a life in motion, pain free – that’s the best gift I could have asked for.”