Girl Power Strong at Stanford’s Spine Program

Scoliosis patients, who are mostly teen girls, love the all-women spine team at Stanford two days a week.

Stanford’s all-women spine team: Caitlin Francis, CPNP, Meghan Imrie, MD, Kali Tileston, MD, and Lauren Carter, CPNP (left to right).

If you walk into the Palo Alto location of Stanford’s Scoliosis and Spinal Deformity Program on certain days, you’ll catch a strong feminine vibe. That’s because the center has an all-women crew—orthopedic surgeons, nurses, and support staff—two days a week. While it wasn’t intentional to create a women’s spine clinic, patients are loving it. 

“We have four pediatric spine surgeons, and two happen to be women who are scheduled on the same days. It has worked out well, especially for our adolescent idiopathic scoliosis patients, who are primarily girls,” says Meghan Imrie, MD, one of those surgeons.

The program cares for patients with all kinds of spine conditions, but a majority have scoliosis, a curvature of the spine. Adolescent idiopathic scoliosis, which is scoliosis that doesn’t have a known cause, is most common in girls ages 10–18.

“Some people view scoliosis as a dangerous, scary diagnosis, but really, it’s something we know how to treat and can treat safely with good results,” says Kali Tileston, MD, a pediatric spine surgeon at Stanford Children’s Health. “Girls can have fears about looking differently, or not being able to do certain things like sports, but we help them live a normal teenage life.”

Camyrn Royston and Maya Canziani understand those fears firsthand. The two girls are 15 years old, and they attend the same high school. They have idiopathic scoliosis in common, and they both received the same corrective spine surgery from Dr. Tileston. On top of all these similarities, they’re best friends.

“It was really helpful that Maya had surgery before me, because she told me everything that would happen,” says Camryn.  

Camryn (left) and Maya (right) are best friends, and they both had surgery to treat scoliosis.
Maya visited Camryn at Lucile Packard Children’s Hospital Stanford when she was recovering from spine surgery.

Camryn’s mom, Neiley Royston, considered it a complete bonus that Dr. Tileston was female and that she could understand a teenage girl’s perspective. Yet she thinks it’s a cruel joke that idiopathic scoliosis happens during the early stages of puberty, when girls want to blend in and not experience anything out of the ordinary. 

“Scoliosis typically happens when girls are going through a lot of other bodily changes. They may be self-conscious or scared, so some girls are more comfortable with a female doctor doing exams and answering questions,” Dr. Imrie says. “That’s not to say my male colleagues are not sensitive, smart, and kind. They definitely are. It’s just nice to have that female-to-female connection.” 

Both families were really happy with Dr. Tileston and the outcome of the girls’ surgeries. They appreciated all of the great care they received and the kindness of the nurses during their hospital stays.

“Everyone was so supportive. One nurse would braid my hair, and they all made me feel at home,” Maya says. “Dr. Tileston was great—she didn’t rush us at all and explained everything well. It helped that she was a woman because it made exams easier.”

The two girls have known each other since first grade. Maya is loud, energetic, and fun. Camryn is loyal, sweet, and—according to her proud best friend—a great soccer player. They are both getting back to sports as the pandemic allows. Maya feels fully recovered from surgery, and Camryn is on her way.

The Scoliosis and Spinal Deformity Program has a multidisciplinary approach, providing several treatment options besides surgery. Patients benefit from physical therapy, on-site brace creation and fitting, an EOS low-dose imaging system, and more.

“What separates us from other spine programs is that we have the only EOS machines in the greater Bay Area, which can take a full-body x-ray using 1/50th of the radiation of a standard x-ray. Children with scoliosis need frequent imaging to check for changes in their spine, so this matters,” Dr. Tileston says. “It’s also unique that we partner with orthotists to make spine braces on-site, so adjustments are quick and easy. Plus, we are the only center in the area to offer the Schroth method—a popular and effective scoliosis physical therapy program for patients.”  

By taking a comprehensive approach to treating scoliosis and other spine conditions, the program provides the best possible care for patients of all ages and genders. While there’s no official women’s spine clinic, the benefits are clear.

“We help teenage girls take control of their health,” Dr. Tileston says. “As women, we want them to feel empowered and understand that scoliosis doesn’t define them.”   

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