An entrepreneur who defied doctors by fixing her curved spine has turned the remedy into a multi-million pound business – and has helped cure hundreds of people.
Erika Maude, 27, was diagnosed with scoliosis when she was just 11 after her mum Jane noticed a hump on her right shoulder.
Surgeons told the teenager she was an immediate case for traumatic spinal fusion surgery.
But defiant Erika found a treatment centre in Spain which promised results through simple daily stretching exercises.
After a five-week course in Barcelona the schoolgirl was amazed to find her curve had HALVED – the same result promised by surgery.
Determined Erika set her heart on helping others and secured an £100,000 loan to open her own Scoliosis SOS Rehabilitation Centre in Suffolk – aged just 19.
She has since moved to a brand new clinic in London where she has helped almost 1,000 from all over the world fix their spines through breathing exercises and stretching.
Brave Erika, who turns over 500,000 a year, said: “I didn’t want to have this operation that I didn’t think I needed it.
“I was quite happy and I could do everything I wanted to do and it was quite overwhelming to be told I needed it.
“I thought there must be something else – and there was.
“I was able to strengthen the muscles around my spine to hold it in a central position.
“My long term goal from then on was that I wanted to open up some sort of facility in England.
“It was a lot of hard work but once we got going it sort of snow-balled from there – the more people we treated the more people that came to us.
“For me, it is about giving people that ability to control their own destiny.”
When Erika, from Suffolk, was first diagnosed with an S-shaped spine, doctors told her it was nothing to worry about.
But aged 13 her curve became more prominent and she was told she would need surgery.
She opted out of surgery in favour of two traumatic years wearing a painful body brace for 21 hours a day – which actually made her condition worse.
Erika added: “It was like a plastic corset and it was quite traumatic.
“It was very very uncomfortable and incredibly hot in summer.
“I couldn’t sit on the floor in assembly and had to sit with the teachers.
“I had really supportive friends and good teachers but it always set me apart.
“They took the brace off and they thought it had been doing a really good job.
“They said come back in six months. I did and had an x-ray and they said I had got worse.
“What they failed to realise was that I had stopped growing when they put it on.
“I’d been being held up by this brace so I had none of my own core strength to hold my spine up.”
Once again medics told Erika she needed corrective surgery – and once more she looked for another option.
She found a five-week clinic course in Barcelona and for the first time the 15-year-old met scoliosis-sufferers her own age.
The technique – a mix of Pilates, yoga and physiotherapy – loosens the muscles which are pulling the spine into the wrong shape and tightens others to help hold up the spine.
It worked and Erika’s condition improved by 50 per cent, fuelling her desire to help other sufferers keen to avoid going under the knife.
She said: “It was quite noticeable. Doctors said there was no reason why I needed to have surgery – I could leave and have a normal life.”
The brainy teenager secured a place to study business economics and finance at university, but during a gap year decided to follow her dreams.
She secured a £50,000 business loan and scraped together another £50,000 from friends and family and became the clinical manager of a centre in Suffolk in February 2009.
Three years later they relocated to London, where a team of 11 staff welcome people – aged three to 92 – from all over the world.
Treatment costs around £30 an hour and the clinic boasts impressive results.
Erika said: “Everyone who comes to us sees some improvement in their condition.
“Out of the people who come to us who have been told – like me – that they needed to have spinal fusion surgery, 88 per cent go on not to need it.
“Our main long term goal is we would like everyone in England to have the chance to treatment here on the NHS.
“We have caused a bit of a stir in the spinal surgery community – there is a lot of politics in it and money at stake.
“There is no cure for scoliosis but we just want to offer people that chance to try something else.”