A teenage karate champ facing life in a wheelchair due to a crippling spinal condition was fighting fit – thanks to an operation which left her FOUR inches taller.
Brave Emma Wells, 14, was diagnosed with debilitating scoliosis after nurses spotted an unnatural 42-degree ”hunchback” curve in her spine at the age of 11.
The news was a devastating blow to sporty Emma who represented Great Britain in the World Association of Kickboxing Organisations (WAKO) junior championship in Croatia in 2006.
For two years the youngster was forced to wear a 16-inch body cast for 23 hours a day in a bid to straighten her spine.
But it became apparent Emma’s scoliosis was more severe than initially feared and she was faced with an agonising decision on undergoing invasive surgery.
Although the eight hour operation could have carried a risk of paralysis, without it Emma would have been condemned to life in a wheelchair and constant pain.
In a delicate procedure surgeons clamped her spine into place with two titanium rods and seven metal pins, leaving Emma with a 12-inch scar.
But after a gruelling year in recovery the plucky teen is back on her feet and determined to fight for her country again.
She has the added advantage of a four-inch height gain, after she shot up from 5ft 4in to 5ft 8in following the operation to straighten her back.
Emma, from Walton, Peterborough, Cambs., said: ”As soon as I was diagnosed I knew I had to fight back. Karate means so much to me, I’m so glad I can get back into it.
”When I knew I had to have the surgery it was scary, but I didn’t think twice because it meant I had a chance at doing karate again.
”I didn’t want to let scoliosis continue to hold me back, I just wanted to get on with my life.
”The next thing is to see if I can start fighting again and I hope to be able to represent my country again soon.”
Sporty Emma was first diagnosed with scoliosis in September 2007 during a routine asthma appointment when a nurse noticed her right shoulder was higher than her left.
She had always complained of a sore back and following the diagnosis it became progressively worse as her tortured spine twisted into an S-bend.
Despite giving up competitive sport and wearing the body cast day in day out by early 2009 it was clear Emma’s scoliosis was rapidly worsening.
In April she was admitted to Addenbrooke’s Hospital in Cambridge for the complex surgery which fortunately came off without a hitch.
By September determined Emma was well enough to start rebuilding her fitness through gentle dancing and at Christmas her parents agreed to let her start PE lessons again.
Now she is set to start karate lessons again during the summer holidays, to the delight of their mum Wendy, 44, dad Chris and brother Harry, 16.
Emma’s plan is to return to the WAKO world champions and better her 2006 performance, in which she was injured in the first round, by winning for GB.
Proud Wendy, a full-time mum, said she was astounded by Emma’s determination to fight back to full health.
She said: ”Right from her diagnosis Emma kept asking us when she could get back into sport.
”She has been so brave and has focused on recovering all the way and has refused to let the scoliosis get her down.”
Sarah Wiles, of Scoliosis Association UK said Emma could expect to return to full fighting fitness thanks to the operation.
She said: ”Scoliosis, or curvature of the spine, is a condition that is far more common than people imagine.
”It is particularly prevalent in young people around the growth spurt where three children out of 1000 will be affected.
”It can be a troubling time for young people, but the important thing to keep in mind is that there are fantastic ways to help, and it is possible to go on to lead a life without restriction.”