Volunteer Shares Tale of Orthopaedic Surgery

Canadian Orthopaedic Foundation

Service “Takes Away Fear of the Unknown”

When you’re dealing with an orthopaedic condition, what can have the most impact?  Karen Moreland, who lived with scoliosis (a curvature of the spine), thinks she knows.  Surgery, physiotherapy and medication can all make a difference, says Moreland, a Calgary investment researcher.  But for patients, it’s just as critical to get educated.

“You have to be informed,” says Moreland.  “You need to learn about your condition, so you can ask the right questions.  And talking to someone who has faced the same condition, and come out the other end, takes away the fear of the unknown.”

That’s why Moreland is delighted to volunteer for Ortho Connect, a peer support phone program offered through the Canadian Orthopaedic Foundation.

The program matches people who’ve been referred for orthopaedic care with volunteers who’ve undergone similar surgical treatment.  Ortho Connect volunteers are trained to offer support and encouragement, and refer people to other community resources as required.

Moreland learned of the program when she contacted the Canadian Orthopaedic Foundation in 2006, looking for information before her spinal surgery.  Though no volunteers had faced her specific situation, she says the Foundation still offered helpful advice, such as how to talk to your surgeon.  After her successful surgery, Moreland decided to become an Ortho Connect volunteer herself.

For people with scoliosis, their spines curve from side to side, looking on an X-ray more like an “S” or “C” than a straight line.  Moreland, 45, first saw signs of the condition at 15.  The scoliosis caused some pinched nerves and sciatic pain, and Moreland would intermittently end up in the hospital in traction, and undergo physiotherapy.

Eventually, her pain worsened to the point that, she says, “If I was driving, I had to hold myself up by my elbows.  I would be in tears from any bump.”  In 1989, she had spinal fusion surgery, which relieved her pain for a dozen years.

About five years ago, the pain returned.  Moreland tried Botox injections, acupuncture, muscle relaxants, and pain medication.  Nothing worked.  At one point, “I was like a question mark, walking with a cane all hunched over.”

Finally, she learned of the opportunity to have a spinal reconstruction procedure at Foothills Hospital in Calgary.  The surgeon inserted 24 screws (two in each vertebrae), two clips and two rods (one on either side of her spine).  Moreland says she has never felt better, and is 2½ inches taller to boot: “I have a new lease on life,” she says.

Through Ortho Connect, she wants to help patients understand what to expect with their orthopaedic treatment, and approach it with greater confidence and comfort.

“It’s our responsibility to take control of our health,” says Moreland.  “You need to be a partner in care, instead of throwing yourself into the system, and hoping for the best.  Knowledge is power.”