Four South Bay teens are changing the conversation around scoliosis while offering their support to those affected.
Finding strength in numbers.
- Written byAmber Klinck
- Photographed byLauren Pressey
Molly Ghiselli, Remi Pappas, Kate (Kiki) Schumacher and Courtney Canales are bright and beautiful teenage girls living their lives to the fullest. They’re students and athletes. They love going to the beach and spending time with their friends. And they’ve all undergone spinal fusion surgery.
Diagnosed with scoliosis at different stages of their youth, the girls each share successful recoveries—but only after overcoming both physical and emotional hurdles. Now they’re looking to share their stories, raise awareness and offer support for kids and their families affected by scoliosis through their website MOREsupport.org.
“I was the last one to get the surgery out of the four of us,” Remi says. “And Courtney got her surgery only a couple of months before me. [The girls] reached out to me when they heard, and my mom reached out to a few of their moms because [she] didn’t know anybody else who had gotten the surgery.” For Remi and her family, having people in their community who were familiar with spinal fusion surgery was a gift.
For Molly it wasn’t the experiences of a trusted peer she relied on; it was some of the most severe cases she found online. “I didn’t really know anyone. My family and I were trying to find contacts, but we couldn’t find anyone in our community,” Molly says. “I remember I looked up scoliosis online. I would find all these crazy things and hear all these terrible stories—horror stories that are really rare, and it freaked me out. I felt like there wasn’t an online place where I could go and see positive and uplifting stories.”
Kiki, too, was underwhelmed with what she found online. “We made this group to put more information and awareness out there,” she says.
“Because I didn’t really have that, I want to reach out to those fifth-grade girls that don’t know what they’re doing or what’s happening … to give them support and advice and let them know it’s all going to work out,” Molly adds.
The decision to have surgery was a final resort for the girls and their families—one made after closely monitoring the curvature of their spines, physical therapy and—for Molly, Remi and Courtney—wearing a back brace daily. “For people who really don’t want the attention focused on them, it’s uncomfortable,” Courtney says. Remi felt the brace affected her balance, that it left her feeling out of control.
“It was hard dealing with peers,” Molly notes. “They didn’t really understand, and it would stick out and kids would just stare. But it boosted my confidence overall, because I learned that I shouldn’t care what other people think. It’s my health, and that comes first.”
It’s this kind of positive outlook the girls are sharing on their website. By candidly detailing their personal stories—from diagnosis to their individual day-by-day recoveries—the girls are providing an informative and supportive platform for teens navigating through scoliosis and encouraging those affected to reach out directly through the website.
“Another way we reach out to people is by speaking at events,” Remi says. “We want to get the word out,” Courtney adds. “When you’re going through it and don’t know anyone, it’s really scary. We want to show everyone that we’ve all gone through the surgery and we’re all fine and happy now.”
The girls have also been asked to be junior ambassadors for Children’s Hospital, only expanding their outreach.
The magnitude of what Kiki, Molly, Remi and Courtney have overcome physically is certainly not lost on them. But neither are the less obvious forms of support that led to their recovery.
“We’d like to turn [MORE Support] into a nonprofit organization to raise funds for [back] braces for kids who can’t afford them. Or to pay for the spinal fusion surgery,” Courtney says.
“The school provided us with tutors for the time we were out of school,” Molly adds. “But some schools may not provide tutors; its little things like that.”
These girls see the big picture, but they see it through the eyes of a teenager—and that’s what makes their platform so powerful. As the conversation turns to the best post-surgery beachwear for protecting your scar from the sun while still looking cute, it hits me. If I were a kid diagnosed with scoliosis, these are the girls I’d want to talk to.
Their Year in Health
Courtney: I do track at Mira Costa High School. It’s known to be one of the harder sports. We have a D1 team, so it’s really intense. I was always worried about how my surgery would affect [what I can do], but I can go to the gym, I can run, I can go to the beach and swim in the ocean.
Next Health Goal
Kiki: I’m a cross country and track runner. I just ran the 10K in Manhattan Beach. I always like to exercise and keep up my running. My goal is to always push myself to do better.
Remi: Shopping, going to the beach and just being with our friends and hanging out.
All, in unison: Candy.
Kiki: Princess Eugenie. She just got married, and her dress was cut in a V in the back. She had purposely done that to show off her scoliosis scar.
Courtney: Martha Hunt [Victoria’s Secret model]. It just goes to show you can live a full and completely successful life even with the surgery. It’s not going to hamper your ability to be great and do the things you want to in life.
It’s hard not to smile when Liz is in the room.
She sparks a natural candescence with each distinctive laugh or clever observation. Pointing out an uneaten cupcake on her table at a photo shoot, she sweetly confides picking it out as a potential prop, inspiring this writer to pick up one for himself.