After undergoing scoliosis surgery seven years ago at Children’s Memorial Hermann Hospital to treat a severe curvature in her spine followed by three months of healing and recovery – 21-year-old Mya Aguilar has overcome many challenges, and with her audacity and boldness, she is making the seemingly impossible, possible. Later this year, she plans to join the military – a goal she has always wanted to pursue. Mya is proof that with hard work and a positive attitude, you can crush any challenge – large or small – and come out as a stronger person.
“I look at challenges as opportunities to thrive,” said Mya. “When I was a young child, I participated in many competitive after-school sports – like volleyball, tennis, basketball and softball. I’ve always been physically active my whole life. Then, when I had to take a break from playing sports – that was pretty tough for me. I recall the day when my doctor told me that I needed spine surgery. My mom and I were nervous. My spine was curved at a 50-degree angle. Without surgery, the curve could get worse and increase the risk for problems in the future. My mom did lots of research on doctors in Houston, and all I could think about was will I be able to be active again. I faced my fears and years later when I look back on it, I am so glad I had surgery because I probably wouldn’t be doing the things I can do today.”
In the summer of 2014 – right before her freshman year of high school – 14-year-old Mya underwent surgery. Dr. Lindsay Crawford, an assistant professor of orthopedic surgery at UTHealth Houston and pediatric orthopedic surgeon affiliated with Children’s Memorial Hermann, and the affiliated team performed the seven-hour operation using two rods and 19 screws to straighten her back.
“Mya has a diagnosis of adolescent idiopathic scoliosis. She was an otherwise healthy teenager who developed a significant curvature of the spine as she grew,” said Dr. Crawford. For her, the spine curvature increased as she got taller. If the curvature becomes 50 degrees or more, surgery is recommended, as was Mya’s case. The good news for patients like Mya is that our goal for surgery is to get them back to activities and prevent further progression of their spinal curvature. It is wonderful to see everything Mya has achieved. She is a great inspiration for other scoliosis patients!
After her surgery, Mya began going to rehabilitation twice a week at Memorial Hermann Sports Medicine and Rehabilitation locations in Willowbrook and Memorial City.
“It took me two to three months to completely recover,” said Mya. “I had to learn how to walk again, and I had to give myself enough time to heal and get stronger. I still have lower back pain occasionally, especially when I overexert myself, but that hasn’t stopped me from living a fulfilling life. My prognosis is much better than what it could have been if I didn’t have the surgery. After my recovery, I started going to the gym because I read that after surgery everything that I do from this point on, I will have to work even harder.”
It appears all that hard work and perseverance paid off for Mya in a big way. She is now setting her sights on joining the Army National Guard later this year – melding her love for service and country with her passion to be the best version of herself. She says if you tell yourself, “I can do this” and you believe it, nothing is going to stop you from taking on that challenge that you may have been hesitant to take.
“I always wanted to serve in the Army,” said Mya. “My family is military, and I wanted to do something different. I wanted something to challenge me and provide me with more guidance and structure in my life, as well as gain the benefits that come with being a soldier. I want to serve my country and make my country and family proud. I know there will be challenges ahead, but I have proven to myself I can do it.”
Recently, Mya completed her Army Combat Fitness Test (ACFT), a physically and mentally grueling obstacle course that evaluates a soldier’s physical fitness and endurance. From hand-release pushups to deadlifting 140 pounds three times in a row, to power throws, pulling a 90-lb sled, planking for 1 minute and 40 seconds, and doing two-mile runs, Mya passed the ACFT with flying colors on the first attempt.
“It was pretty challenging,” said Mya. “It definitely took a toll on me mentally and physically. I struggled a little with the plank because of my back. My lower back was kind of dipping in. But that is not a bad thing. It only means I have to make my core stronger. My back doesn’t prevent me from doing anything. I can accomplish just about anything that I set my mind on. Believing in yourself makes a big difference.”
Mya is in the process of gathering her paperwork together and registering for the Army National Guard. Right now, she continues to do drills to prepare herself for basic training and she plans to go to school to be a sonographer. She has always wanted to be in the medical field because of her mom who is studying to be a nurse. For Mya, the sky is the limit. She says everything that she has accomplished thus far would not have been possible without Dr. Crawford and her team at Children’s Memorial Hermann Hospital. They are a large part of her inspiring success story.
“I am happy my mom found Dr. Crawford,” said Mya. “She and her team were supportive and answered all my questions about the surgery. They made me feel welcomed and comfortable, and I knew from the start they wanted to ensure I had the best outcome possible. In fact, not too long ago, my mom met a dad who had a 13-year-old daughter who had the same surgery as I did. He wanted to talk to somebody who had been through the surgery because he didn’t know how the surgery would react to his daughter’s body years down the road. When I shared my experience, he felt better about the decision he made for his daughter, and that made me feel happy. While I am different than other people – I have 19 screws and two rods in my back – that hasn’t stopped me from doing what I enjoy. It might be more difficult and challenging, but if you set your mind on something, you will achieve it.”