Anastasia Machenko Gets a Second Chance at Dance

by Bridget Conrad | 2/28/2018 4:06 PM

Photo Credit: ABC News

When I was 10-years-old, I was diagnosed with a severe case of scoliosis. I had no choice but to have a spinal fusion surgery, which limited the flexibility in my back and caused me to hang up my dance shoes at the age of 18. So naturally, when I heard Anastasia Machenko’s story on Good Morning America last week, it hit home and inspired me to help spread the word about her amazing recovery from a debilitating case of scoliosis.

For those of you who missed her Good Morning America segment, Machenko was a championship ballroom dancer who was forced to give up her passion due to scoliosis, which according to National Institutes of Health, is a sideways curvature of the spine. Scoliosis caused Machenko to battle constant pain. “It was like a stabbing. Like, a constant stabbing. And it’s like somebody’s taking your spine and they’re literally holding it, strangling it,” Machenko told Good Morning America.

Over the years, her scoliosis worsened, and she was told that her only option of treatment was to undergo the same fusion surgery that I went through to permanently straighten her spine. The huge side effect from this surgery though is limited flexibility, which we all know is detrimental to a dancer, often causing early retirement.

Machenko was able to delay surgery for a while with the help of physical therapy and back braces and went on to win the National Ballroom Championships in 2016. It’s hard to believe that when she won this title she had a 76-degree curve in her upper-spine and a 66-degree curve in her lower spine. Speaking from someone who had a 55-degree curve in her upper spine and 50-degree curve in her middle spine, I’m not sure how she continued to perform at such a high level. Her scoliosis was definitely classified as extremely severe.

After her win, with the advice of many doctors, Machenko listened to her body and concluded that dancing probably wasn’t in her future. As heartbreaking of a decision as that was for this teen, hope would soon find her when she least expected it.

Photo Credit: Daily Mail

Not long after her decision to retire from dance, Machenko found Dr. Baron Lonner, a scoliosis specialist at Mount Sinai Health Systems in New York who offered her a new lease on her dancing career. He informed Machenko about an experimental, non-FDA approved, alternative treatment for scoliosis called tethering. The procedure consisted of attaching a flexible cord onto screws placed in the vertebrae. When the cord is lightened, it compresses the screws to straighten the spine. “It preserves and maintains flexibility for the patient as well as growth for those who are still growing,” Lonner told Good Morning America. Right now, it’s uncertain as to how long the cords will last, but doctors are working to develop this surgery with the goal of having the cords last a life time.

The tethering surgery was an option Machenko couldn’t pass up. She underwent a full-day operation where Lonner removed four ribs and tethered her spine. Six weeks later, Machenko found herself standing a whole two inches taller. Now that Machenko is recovered from the surgery, she is looking forward to a long future in the dance world.

To me, Machenko showed extreme courage, maturity, and strength going through this whole process. My scoliosis journey caused me to grow up faster than I ever thought I would have to, but I am thankful every day that my dance teacher discovered the curves in my spine. I’m so glad to see dancers being afforded more options these days when it comes to scoliosis. Even though I’m out of commission, nothing makes me happier than to write about dancers who overcome this condition to keep their dream alive.


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