There are certain things parents have to remind their teenagers to do on a daily basis.
Scoop the litter box. Unload the dishwasher. Clean up your room. Sit up straight and don’t slouch.
Southeastern High School sophomore Trinity Cline must have heard that last one more than a hundred times from her parents, Arnie and Leah Cline.
“I was like, ‘Trinity stand up straight,’ ” said Leah, her mother. “She was always telling us she was. We were telling her for a year to stand up straight and it kept getting worse.”
The Clines didn’t find out how bad it truly was until a visit to the doctor in the summer of 2016, right before her freshman year. Trinity’s back pain after practices was becoming too much. Her common routine of two or three ibuprofen tablets a day wasn’t providing relief.
Trinity was diagnosed with Scheuermann’s kyphosis, a degenerative back condition that caused her to slouch and gave her a painful hump in the middle of her back.
The treatment? Wear a back brace that would provide support but not correct the condition since Trinity was essentially finished growing, or undergo an eight-hour surgery that would put 26 screws, 14 hooks and two titanium rods the full length of her spine. Trinity opted for the second one.
“We thought it through and we decided on the surgery because I was in so much pain,” Trinity said. “I was pretty shocked. I couldn’t really say what I was feeling at that point. A couple days after I was like, ‘Holy crap, they’re going to be cutting me open and putting two rods in my back.’ ”
Scheuermann’s kyphosis affects about five percent of the population and generally develops between the ages of 10-15. Vertebrae are rectangular and stacked atop one another with a soft cushion in between each one. The condition occurs when the vertebrae become wedged and more like triangles, providing them less support and causing the spine to curve more than normal. Males are twice as likely to develop Scheuermann’s kyphosis than females.
Trinity, a three-sport athlete, attacked her physical therapy like she does a spike in volleyball.
“She essentially had to learn how to re-walk again. She did that and it was amazing,” Arnie said.
Doctors recommended doing her painful physical therapy sessions two days a week. Trinity did three days. Doctors told her recovery would take between six months and a year. Trinity finished it in six months.
She weened herself off her medicine in four weeks. Her mom said some patients are still on it a year later. Her next goal was being able to tie her shoes again. She missed six weeks of school. When she returned she used a suitcase on wheels to pull her books around for three months.
The process was grueling, but knowing she still had a future with sports provided the inspiration for her perspiration.
“She thought sports were over,” Leah said. “We had to see how it went. She now is really shining and becoming the person she’s supposed to. … Sports were her outlet.”
Trinity plays middle hitter on the Trojans’ volleyball team. She plays post in basketball. And she pitches on the softball team. She’s left with few limitations, except for the major one — no falling on the back. Well, that and no more roller coasters.
When basketball games get physical, especially in Ohio Heritage Conference play, Southeastern coach Bob Wehner often puts Trinity on the bench to protect her. That’s not an easy thing to with her height. And when play does get physical during games, Trinity — who lost some flexibility after the surgery — is training herself to fall on her knees, not her back. That also limits her ability to dive after loose balls.
“She’s learning how to adjust to her new body,” Leah said. “Basketball was a big thing. I did not want her playing because it’s very physical. She’s adjusting. You can’t fall and she shouldn’t be on the ground. She’s training herself to fall on her knees. It’s not going to be good on her knees, but it saves her back.”
A fall on her back could break the rods. That means a second painful surgery and grueling recovery.
“It’s hard sometimes when the game gets real physical and we don’t play her as much just because of her back,” Wehner said. “She’s a tough kid. She’s very positive and is very team-oriented. She’s gotten a lot better as the year’s gone on.”
“Coach Wehner has been very supportive as to Trinity taking time to learn her new body,” Leah said. “Some schools and some coaches just want to win. They want you to sacrifice your body. He hasn’t asked her to do that.”
Trinity had surgery on Nov. 22, 2016, at Nationwide Children’s Hospital in Columbus. She wanted to wait until after volleyball season. She was released for all activities in May 2017.
“I’m not in any pain so I’m really glad I had the surgery done,” Trinity said.
“It was hard getting back to it because I had to slowly get back to things like walking. A couple more months after that I was released to run and then jump. … I really wanted to get back to volleyball because that started in May. I really wanted to play volleyball.”
Cline led the Trojans in assisted blocks (23) and was second in kills (115), solo blocks (41) and total blocks (64). She was also third on the team with 27 aces.
Her return to sports has given the Trojans’ programs a lift. The surgery also helped Cline reach new heights, in a manner of speaking. One side effect from straightening Cline’s back is she went from being 5-foot-9 to 6-foot-1.
“My mom and my dad were like, ‘No, we were always taller than you.’ I’ve got them now,” Trinity said, grinning.
Her parents are glad to see that smile return. Leah admits Trinity struggled mentally and emotionally before her condition was diagnosed. Being a teen in middle school is tough enough without having a hump on your back, too. Trinity attended London City Schools before deciding to open enroll at Southeastern Local Schools as an eighth-grader.
Surgery left her with a scar the length of her back. She wanted a homecoming dress that covered her scar last fall. Her friends are encouraging her to wear a homecoming dress this fall that shows off her scar as a tribute to her toughness.
“They supported me through it so I’m really glad that I have friends like that,” Trinity said.
“She was accepted right away. Her attitude completely changed,” Leah said. “I feel like now she’s the person she was supposed to be and reach her full potential. It’s a really good fit.”