19-year-old John Sarcona had never known a life without pain. He was born with a severe case of scoliosis that caused his spine to bend in two different directions, according to the Daily Mail. Starting at only 5-years-old, he was forced to endure corrective surgery every 6 months of his life. At 19, John had already undergone 18 different surgeries and had very restricted movement. In addition to scoliosis, the teen also suffered from a spinal abnormality known as kyphosis. The combination of the two caused his spine to bend into an “S” shape and form a type of hunchback.
In order to keep his spine from bending further out of shape, John was fitted with an uncomfortable plastic brace that he was required to wear for the majority of the day. His mother, Joanne Sarcona, hated watching her son try to live a normal life with the restrictions of the brace.
“He was such a little tyke. All the time, he’d ask, “Can I take it off, Mommy?” when he’d go play with his brother or friends or when he was tired of wearing it all day. We thought it was only going to be for a short period of time and then it would be over,” she said. However, the boy was determined not to let his condition hold him back from taking part in sports or playing with his friends. He ignored his agonizing pain until he reached 16-years-old and his condition took away his ability to stand.
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Despite rods in his back to keep his spine straight, John’s skeleton continued to bend further by the hour. The pressure of the constant shifting was beginning to crush his organs making it difficult to breathe. Finally, Dr. Lawrence Lenke, a doctor at New York-Presbyterian Hospital, came up with a plan to give the boy his life back.
John’s new team of doctors created a halo ring to be secured above his head using rods. The contraption aided to stabilize his body and lengthen his spine, causing him almost immediate relief. The teen then endured 13 grueling hours of delicate surgery to correct his spine. Doctors took apart John’s spine and carefully put it back together again, relieving the pressure placed on his internal organs. After only three days in the ICU, the teen was miraculously on his feet and walking around.
“Seeing him go to prom, walk across the stage at graduation, his beautiful golf swing, going to college … my heart just breaks open,” his mother says.