ST. LOUIS (KMOV.com) -- June is the time of year people spread awareness about scoliosis. Experts at SSM Health St. Louis University (SLU) Hospital say it's also the time of year when more children are diagnosed with the spinal deformity.
For this Scoliosis Awareness Month, one local family is sharing its story for others to learn from.
"I started playing golf when I was about four," said 12-year-old Reagan Gatz.
Her family and team of doctors at SSM Health SLU Hospital are determined not to let scoliosis get in the way of her love for sports.
"Big deep breath in," instructs Andrea Navratil. She's Reagan's physical therapist during their bi-weekly appointment.
Reagan's mom first noticed something looked off nearly seven years ago.
"I came in to give her her pajamas and she bent over and I could see a bulge on the back of her back," said Tracy Gatz, Reagan's mom.
"So she rushed me to the hospital and they said I just have scoliosis," Reagan remembers.
Scoliosis is a sideways curve in the spine. It can cause postural imbalances, changes in strength, flexibility, breathing and pain.
It most often develops during a growth spurt before puberty. It's more common in girls than boys and it's more diagnosed in the summer.
"Because parents are seeing their kids without shirts on because of swimming and hotter weather," Navratil said.
Patients from all over Missouri are coming to SSM Health SLU Hospital to work with Navratil. She says she is one of only six Schroth-certified therapist in the state.
"The Schroth method is a nonsurgical approach to treating spinal deformities like scoliosis or kyphosis," Navratil said.
Navratil leads patients like Reagan through breathing and muscle exercises to retrain their spines.
"We can make subtle changes in the body that can be life-changing," Navratil said.
This relatively new therapy, plus a brace, is helping Reagan overcome her diagnosis.
"It certainly does change someone's life and I feel like not a lot of people know about it," Reagan said.
Reagan's mom says hope now outweighs worry that Reagan might need a corrective surgery.
"I can tell in her back when she stands that she has a different posture and you can tell she will put herself in her posture when she isn't wearing her brace," Gatz said.
The Gatz family and their medical team hope their experience will encourage other families to learn more about their treatment options.
"Bracing and waiting and seeing and surgery are not your only options," Navratil said.
"Sometimes you have to be patient with it and tell your spine what to do and not let it tell you," Reagan said.