Lawrence student with scoliosis pushes for school district to begin screenings again

photo by: Meeting screenshot/Lawrence Public Schools YouTube Channel

Emma Hefty, a freshman at Free State High School, speaks to the Lawrence school board about suffering from scoliosis, during the board's meeting on Monday, Sept. 9, 2019. She advocated for the school district to bring back scoliosis screenings.

When Emma Hefty was in seventh grade in 2018, she began to feel constant pain in her back.

After meeting with doctors, she and her family learned that she was living with a curved spine, a condition known as scoliosis.

“I was in so much pain I didn’t want to go out with my friends,” Emma said. “I missed a lot because I was in so much pain and in this constant battle. Forget trying to be a normal teen; my back felt like I was a 75-year-old.”

While Emma, who is now a freshman at Free State High School, has grown past the age to use a corrective back brace, she hopes her story may lead to other students in the Lawrence area avoiding the same fate.

She said she could have been spared a lifetime of issues from scoliosis if she had been properly diagnosed when she was younger. On Monday, during the Lawrence school board meeting, Emma presented her story to raise awareness and advocate for the school district to again begin screening all students for scoliosis.

“Early diagnosis is key,” she said. “If a curve can be caught (early) and braced or monitored, it can save a student from pain.”

Currently, the Lawrence school district does not provide screenings. Julie Boyle, a spokeswoman for the district, said the administration was investigating the costs and other factors related to bringing the screenings back. She said the administration was also working to educate parents about the issue.

The state previously required school districts to provide screenings for scoliosis but ended its mandate sometime in the early 2000s because of some misdiagnoses, Lawrence Superintendent Anthony Lewis said.

“Instead of increasing training, they just decided to not mandate screenings in the state of Kansas,” he said.

While scoliosis screenings are currently optional, school districts are required to provide screenings in other areas, such as dental, hearing and vision, according to the Kansas Department of Health & Environment.

In 2017, a bill was filed in the Kansas Legislature that would have required schools to again provide screenings for scoliosis but would not have provided funding for them. However, the bill never received a hearing and died in committee.

Lewis said he appreciated Emma bringing the issue up and her concern for the well-being of fellow students. He said he thought the issue was important because students’ health directly affected their education.

“If I’m in pain, I could care less what you’re saying,” he said, as if he were a student. “When we talk about removing barriers to learning, for Emma, this was definitely a barrier for learning.”

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