Accomplished Brooklyn Artist Has Life Back After Scoliosis Surgery

Brooklyn Eagle—September 29, 2009

An artist who paints giant murals, theater scenery and runway sets for Fashion Week is back at her creative, but strenuous, job just months after surgery to relieve debilitating back pain caused by scoliosis.

Shana Siegel, 27, of Windsor Terrace, is again climbing high scaffolding, lugging around power tools and five-gallon cans of paint, and occasionally working 13-hour days, including at the most recent New York Fashion Week.

Six months ago she could barely function. A complex eight-hour surgery performed by a spine specialist at Hospital for Special Surgery in March helped her get her life back.

At age 13, Siegel had her first surgery for scoliosis in Cleveland, where she grew up. The curve in her spine was getting progressively worse, and she was told she would not live past age 40 without the operation.

It went well. Doctors performed spinal fusion, joining together several vertebrae, placing two rods on either side of her spine and additional hardware to hold everything in place. Siegel was back to school within a few weeks. At age 17, she was playing field hockey.

But after she turned 18, Siegel started having problems. The discs in her lower spine that had not been fused in the operation were starting to wear out. Her muscles were being overtaxed and arthritis was setting in.

By the time she was in her mid-20s, the pain in her lower back was constant and almost unbearable. She relied on anti-inflammatory medication and rested as much as she could.

“I was becoming withdrawn,” she says. “I was a mess, dealing with the chronic pain.”

She cut back on her activities, but reached the point where she couldn’t stand up straight and felt like she was falling forward. Her work as a scenic painter for theater, including Off-Broadway plays, became increasingly difficult. In addition to the pain she was exhausted all the time.

“Reality finally set in,” she says. “I was going to need another surgery.”

Siegel went to three spine surgeons before she consulted with Dr. Matthew Cunningham, who prescribed physical therapy and injections of an anesthetic to try to relieve the pain. When conservative treatments failed to provide relief, Siegel decided to have the eight-hour surgery that would restore her quality of life.

The complex operation entailed taking apart some of the hardware from the first surgery, taking out some of the bone that was crowding nerves and fusing the affected vertebrae below the prior fusion.

Siegel says she is now pain-free and back to work.

“I feel amazing, like a different person,” she says.

Siegel, who holds a BFA in illustration and associate's degree in graphic design from the Rochester Institute of Technology, says she is also looking forward to scuba diving again.

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