Bracing for the future

Kerry Westcott was diagnosed with scoliosis at age 12.

A Malibu teen, suffering from scoliosis, goes through painful surgery and braces for the future-including starting a Web site where others suffering from the same condition can find support.

By Coral Lin/Special to The Malibu Times

Like most students going through their senior year of high school, Malibu resident Kerry Westcott’s days at Louisville High in Woodland Hills are filled with a myriad of school activities that include president of the film club, features editor for her school paper and a participant in her school’s annual dramatic fall play. Senior year also signifies the added anxiety of preparing for college applications. Kerry’s number one school of choice is UCLA.

Her goals, however, are nothing short of incredible.

Unbeknownst to outsiders, Kerry Westcott goes about her daily routine with two pieces of metal rods attached to her spine, a surgical technique for patients in advanced stages of scoliosis. It is also a testament to the struggles Kerry has endured since sixth grade. It was five and a half years ago when she unsuspectingly stepped into her pediatrician’s office for a routine checkup. “They just had me bend over and they could see that my spine was crooked,” she said. “It was just so incredible, them telling me that because I didn’t even know what it was.”

Scoliosis, curvature of the spine, affects roughly 6 million people in the U.S. and there is no known cure, according to the National Scoliosis Foundation.

Although her condition started off relatively slight, Kerry’s back continued to worsen, along with the pain, despite wearing a back brace. Age twelve when first diagnosed, Kerry found herself in a brace 24 hours a day throughout 7th, 8th and 9th grades. She and her mother, Carol Westcott, both believed that by doing so, “she’d get a straight back out of it.”

“We were told by doctors that sometimes with … growth, by wearing a back brace, [the] spine might straighten,” Carol Westcott said.

Kerry went through two plastic back braces as she grew. Padding was continually added to the brace to push the spine into a straighter position and then tightened with straps.

“I couldn’t bend, I couldn’t eat. It was almost like wearing a corset,” Kerry said, remembering how painful it was.

Kerry’s condition affected her school life as well, turning her from a confident teenager into one who was constantly insecure. Because her brace was worn inside her clothing, anything form-fitting was out of the question.

“I was always thinking, is my brace popping out?” Kerry said.

Carol Westcott remembers how hard it was, having to watch her daughter go through the disease. Even though she had always told her daughter that surgery was not an option they would go through, the issue was inevitable.

In March of ninth grade, Kerry and her mother found out that her situation had become life threatening. Back bracing was no longer an option because her lungs had begun to press against her heart.

“They said Kerry probably wouldn’t live if she didn’t do some kind of surgery,” Carol Westcott said.

The decision to have spinal fusion surgery was a big deal for Kerry and the most difficult thing she ever had to go through. “Even though I had friends and family who were supportive,” Kerry said, “it was so personal because nobody else knew what I was going through, how my back felt, how it was twisting.”

Kerry underwent spinal fusion at the Children’s Hospital, an operation to straighten her spine by filling the vertebrae with bone grafting from her rib cage. Two metal rods were inserted next to her spine for the healing process, which left her with no flexibility in her spine whatsoever. When Kerry woke following her surgery, she was met with a horrifying discovery. The operation had caused optic nerve damage, leaving her blind.

“I was scared, shocked and depressed,” Kerry said. “I kept thinking that the surgery was a mistake and that it would have been better to have a crooked spine than no vision.”

Filled with feelings of depression and regret, Kerry endured her first week following surgery unable to focus on anything. “I remember doing physical therapy and feeling really dizzy and nauseous,” she said, “and I would end up closing my eyes.”

Luckily, the blindness was temporary. Now, two and a half years after her surgery, Kerry has finally found herself again.

“Freshman year going into Louisville, I didn’t know anyone,” she said. “It was really hard making new friends and I didn’t have a lot of confidence at all.”

It wasn’t until after her surgery that Kerry was able to approach life with a renewed zest.

“There was always a part of me that thought I couldn’t get through it, that I couldn’t survive it,” Kerry said, “but along the way, I found this confidence in myself and realized I could do it. I’m just amazed at how far I’ve come.”

In addition to plans for a scoliosis documentary in the near future, Kerry has also started the Web site,, as a support system, hoping to build a strong network where people with similar experiences can reach out to each other.

“I didn’t know anyone who was going through the same situation I was,” Kerry explained. “I remember going online late at night, crying and needing someone to talk to.”

With so much to live for, two metal rods aren’t going to get the best of her.

Kerry sits on the couch in their spacious living room, plays with the straps on her back brace and contemplates pursuing theatre arts or journalism as a career.