While she was receiving treatment for scoliosis, Chonise Bass didn't think anyone else knew what she was going through.
"I thought I was by myself," she said. "I thought I was the only person in Atlanta that had scoliosis."
Now that she has gone through both bracing and spinal fusion surgery, the senior at the Atlanta Girls School wants other girls with scoliosis to know that they are not alone.
Starting the Process
When she was in fifth grade, Chonise's parents started noticing that her posture was getting worse. The family's pediatrician, Dorothy Wiggins, M.D., recommended they take Chonise to see Jorge Fabregas, M.D., a Pediatric Orthopaedic Surgeon at Scottish Rite hospital.
Dr. Fabregas found that Chonise's spine had two curves, one at 25 degrees and one at 32 degrees. He chose a Modified Boston brace, an orthosis used to treat scoliosis that was provided through the Children's Orthotics and Prosthetics Program. She had to wear the brace for 20 hours a day.
Although it was difficult, Chonise made the best of the tough situation. She used it as an opportunity to educate her classmates about her condition.
Change of Plans
After a year of wearing the brace, Dr. Fabregas found that Chonise's curves had progressed to 47 and 53 degrees respectively because of a growth spurt.
"I would say, looking back, I don't regret doing the bracing because we wanted to be as conservative as possible," said Rosalind Gregory-Bass, Chonise's mom and an assistant biology professor at Spelman College.
At that point, the only option left was spinal fusion surgery.
"The magnitude of the upcoming procedure did not hit me until I returned home," Chonise said. "I was concerned about what was going to happen next. After talking with Dr. Fabregas and prayer, I began to process and prepare mentally for what I would endure physically."
Chonise had the surgery July 7, 2008. Even after speaking with Dr. Fabregas and hours of research, her parents weren't ready for the moment when their daughter was taken to the operating room.
"I was terrified, but Dr. Fabregas was great," said Chris Bass, Chonise's dad, who is an assistant professor of psychology at Clark Atlanta University. "He told us what was going to happen next. But nothing prepared me for when they wheeled her away."
Recovery and Inspiration
Chonise received physical therapy at the Children's Medical Office Building at Scottish Rite after the surgery to build up her strength.
When she was ready, Chonise joined the Atlanta Girls School swim team so she could stay active and continue to recover from the procedure. More than five years since the surgery, Chonise is more focused on college applications than the curves of her spine.
As she approached her last year in high school, Chonise made it a personal goal to reach out and inspire others in her school and community. Her message, one she often shares on her website, is simple but important.
"Basically, I would just say there is someone here for you," she said. "This is not a rare thing, at all. You're not weird. You are still beautiful."