Mum’s Rare Condition Leaves Her ‘Looking Like A Dinosaur’

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A mum who says she looked like a dinosaur due to a bent spine that protruded through her back is on her feet again thanks to innovative surgery.

Brooke Schilling, 37, relied on a walker and was barely able to move before the life-changing operation, which saw a robot guide a surgeon to insert rods into her back.

The former receptionist suffers from neurofibromatosis, a genetic disorder which causes tumours to form on nerve tissue.

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She lived a normal life but had to have a cancerous tumour removed in 2001 and was left with a ‘hole’ in her left hip after surgery to clean the area.

The birth of her daughter Sophia in 2013 left her tilting slightly to the left when walking and then in 2016 her condition suddenly worsened out of the blue.

Brooke’s spine was so bent she ‘looked like a hunchback’ and says doctors wouldn’t touch her with a ’10ft pole’ for fear of causing more damage.

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It was only when met with surgeon Dr. Ronald Lehman that things took a turn for the better and she underwent a risky op at NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital in April 2016.

Now Brooke is walking again and says she’s able to do ‘normal mom’ things with her little girl, who is now four.

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The mom, of Selden, New York, said:

My spine was protruding out of my back and I was hunched over like a dinosaur.

It was hard for me to walk and things just kept getting worse and worse and I was leaning more and more forward and becoming more contracted.

I can’t even explain the amount of pain I was in. It was mind-blowing. It was awful.

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She continued:

Me and my husband ended up moving in with in-laws and they basically took care of my daughter for me because I wasn’t able to be her mom.

Other than loving her, hanging out and cuddling, I could do nothing for her. I basically missed a year of her life doing things like taking her to pre-school.

I lost lots of weight and was a skinny little thing. I had terrible posture and was this little hunched over woman. It made me feel like a zombie. It got to the point where I was thinking, ‘Is it worth even living?’

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Brooke spoke with Dr Ronald Lehman at New York Presbyterian Hospital and he told her she required complex spine reconstruction. The procedure – which relies on a robot to help place screws and rods in the back – can leave patients paralysed if it goes wrong.

Dr Lehman, a professor of orthopaedic surgery, said:

This was an extremely unusual case in that her spine was dislocated. This is one of the most rare presentations for spinal pathology.

The procedure was very unusual in that we had to stabilize her spine as she was unable to even sit up. She was completely bent over and unable to care for herself.

The Robot was used to assist with placement of the pedicle screws with very challenging anatomy.

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The operation was successful and after undergoing hip surgery and re-learning how to walk, Brooke, who is married to utility worker Matthew, 36, is on the road to recovery.

She said:

I was nervous that I wouldn’t be able to move again but at that point I was basically paralyzed anyway. I just prayed to God it would be OK and it was.

Now here I am in January 2018, standing up with a straight back, going to the gym and looking after my four-year-old daughter.

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She concluded:

Everything has changed. I see pictures of me from before, when I was wearing a brace, and I look so different. Now I’m able to go on rides at theme parks, wear a bathing suit and walking past people in the street without them staring.

If they look at me, whether it’s a man or woman, it might be because a pretty woman just walked by instead of them thinking, ‘Oh, look at that poor thing.’

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Saying the feeling is ‘just great’, she added:

Without Dr. Lehman I don’t know what I would have done. He’s my angel. He fixed me.

What a recovery!


Francesca Donovan

Francesca Donovan

A former emo kid who talks too much about 8Chan meme culture, the Kardashian Klan, and how her smartphone is probably killing her. Francesca is a Cardiff University Journalism Masters grad who has done words for BBC, ELLE, The Debrief, DAZED, an art magazine you've never heard of and a feminist zine which never went to print.