Shae Smith, 15, of Bolivar, Mo., a freshman at Bolivar High School, created a campaign called “Catching The Curve” to raise awareness of scoliosis, prevent spinal deformities through early screening, and boost the confidence of people living with this condition. When Shae was 11, she was diagnosed with scoliosis, an abnormal curvature of the spine that, if left untreated, can cause chronic back pain, disfigurement, and even heart and lung problems. “In three years I have seen numerous orthopedic specialists, was braced 23 hours per day for six months, and discussed the placement of a metal rod in my back,” Shae said. The emotional toll can be just as bad, she added, as children with this condition may suffer low self-esteem or be bullied because of surgery scars or the braces they must wear under their clothes.
Knowing how critical early detection is to slow or even halt the progression of scoliosis, Shae created a website in 2017 to increase public awareness about diagnosis and treatment, and to raise money for her cause. She also has been active politically, lobbying state lawmakers to pass legislation that would mandate scoliosis screening in schools. She also succeeded in having September 1 designated by her state’s governor as Scoliosis Awareness Day. To bolster patients’ self-esteem, Shae organized a fashion show where 11 models with scoliosis strutted down the runway, “proudly modeling their scars, uneven shoulders and hard-shelled braces,” she said. She also has described her own journey in a self-published book and delivered more than 300 copies to schools across Missouri. In addition, Shae has raised $30,000 to help with medical expenses for scoliosis patients at Shriner’s and Children’s Miracle Network hospitals.