Thrown a curve

When Brooke Rogers was diagnosed with scoliosis as a 10-year-old, she never imagined it would provide her with the opportunities and responsibilities she has today.

Curvy Girl member Olivia Kent (above, left) gets a hospital visit from Brooke Rogers.

Curvy Girl member Olivia Kent (above, left) gets a hospital visit from Brooke Rogers.

Now 17, the Ardrey Kell High School senior is leading the way in North Carolina to help mentor and raise up other girls with scoliosis to take hold of their curvy spines and learn the condition doesn’t have to be negative.

Brooke’s scoliosis wasn’t much concern to her childhood pediatrician when it was first diagnosed, but after a growth spurt between seventh and eighth grade, the condition became serious fast, causing Brooke to see a specialist.

She met with Dr. Michael Whattenbarger, a surgeon with OrthoCarolina.

Brooke’s condition was serious. Not knowing what to expect and scared when the words “spinal fusion surgery” were scheduled for Brooke’s future, Brooke and her parents, Tim and Jonnie, weren’t sure where to turn.

But Whattenbarger had a name of a former patient willing to share her story. Jonnie Rogers reached out to Katherine Southard, former Miss North Carolina 2009, who went through spinal fusion surgery in 2007 under the care of Whattenbarger.

Once meeting, Southard became Brooke’s mentor, inspiration and biggest supporter – the person she looked to for hope and strength.

“She let me see her scar the first time we met,” Brooke said, adding it made her July 2011 surgery a lot easier to deal with. Doctors fused two 12-inch-long titanium rods to Brooke’s spine, along with 15 two-inch screws. She gained two inches that day, growing from 5-feet-8-inches to 5-feet-10-inches tall.

“After going through all of that, it really helped a lot to have Katherine by my side,” Brooke said.

That’s why she decided to start her own support group in Charlotte called Curvy Girls. Brooke’s group is part of a larger group started in 2006 by 13-year-old Leah Stolz in Long Island, N.Y. Brooke contacted the group, went through an interview process and was approved to become a group leader herself, and now leads the only Curvy Girls scoliosis support group in North Carolina. Curvy Girls N.C. consists of about 15 girls from North Carolina who meet at least once every two months to talk about their own battles with the condition, clothing tips for those girls who have to wear back braces and just regular teenage girl stuff, Brooke said.

“And we try to make hospital visits when girls are having their surgery to let them know they’re not alone and they don’t have to go through it alone,” Brooke said, adding so far, she’s visited four different girls at the hospital for surgeries. Brooke also has communicated with some girls through email who can’t make it to the group meetings because of distance, answering questions and giving advice.

“Really, the big motto of Curvy Girls is paying it forward. I think everyone needs a mentor in life,” Brooke said. “It’s not an easy time in your life, so it’s really great to be able to relate and at times even laugh about what we’ve been through. It’s a great way to cope.”

For Jonnie Rogers, she’s not sure Brooke would be where she is today if she hadn’t dealt with scoliosis. While dealing with the condition was hard for the family, it was Brooke’s persevering spirit and the help of Southard that helped get the family through. Now, Brooke is a better version of herself, Jonnie Rogers said.

“I don’t know if Brooke would be who she is if she hadn’t gone through this. It’s so life altering, and it’s like every single one of these girls have found out what is really important in life,” Jonnie Rogers said. “Brooke has become more confident, outgoing and caring. There is no way I could have gone through what she went through with the grace and determination. I just think she is amazing.”

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