Parents searched for scoliosis experts and found Turkish centre of excellence
A year ago, 13-year old elite gymnast Alice McLoughlin was on track to compete internationally but then a lump was discovered on her back – it was scoliosis. Her parents, Eilish and Steve, who have two older daughters, knew instantly the pain and difficulties such a diagnosis would mean for their youngest child especially as there is virtually no provision in the NHS.
Eilish and Steve, a construction manager and an IT professional who both originally came to London from Armagh but are now living in Surrey, immediately went about learning everything they could about the condition and where to find the best treatment. They found it in Istanbul and Professor Ahmet Alanay.
Professor Alanay, a surgeon and leading research authority on the condition, specialises in spinal keyhole surgery. In September Alice underwent the pioneering technique and last week-end she performed on stage at the Peacock Theatre for the London Children’s Ballet.
Among those in the audience was her surgeon, Professor Alanay.
Even if Alice had made her way to the top of NHS waiting lists in this country she would have had to undergo fusion surgery.
“It is cruder and has a much longer recovery time, it would have ended her ability to dance at a high level,” said he mum, Eilish.
“To get into the ballet she’s in she had to go through three rounds of auditions as 600 children competed for just sixty places, and she got one of the lead roles,” said her delighted and relieved mum.
Steve, who has been involved with Greenford-based Tir Chonaill Gaels for the past thirty years, said: “You would not believe it, our world was turned upside down. A lump appeared on her back and was noticed at training last April and it was diagnosed as adolescent scoliosis. There’s no provision for it on the NHS and Alice would have been waiting a long time while it only got worse.
“Eilish did a lot of research and joined various forums on the internet and found that there was this keyhole surgery and the only places in Europe where it was being performed were in Germany and Turkey. The surgeon in Turkey, who learned it in the US, is one of the world’s leading authorities. It was a ‘no brainer’ for us.
“We came across a number of families who had nothing but the highest regard and praise for the man. So that was eight months ago. The funny thing is Alice was doing nothing, because she’s just had surgery but was used to training, and we went back before Christmas and Professor Alany said she could go back to dancing. So she auditioned for the part and she got it.
“She can never do gymnastics again because there’s still some bolts in her spine, or something like that, but she can dance,” he said. “We self-financed, we put everything we could together because it’s what any parent would do for their child, we didn’t do any fundraising or anything like that, and we raised the nearly £50,000 it cost. Any parent would have found a way.
“But since we got involved we have been helping a young Dublin lass whose condition is even more severe and her surgery will cost €150,000. Alice was two weeks in hospital, this wee girl will be three months in hospital, just to give you an idea. GAA clubs across Ireland have raised nearly €100,000 to help her.”
Eilish continued the story: “Professor Alany is not just a surgeon, he also leads research into scoliosis. When he came to the theatre at the weekend he was joined from Istanbul to watch the show by three colleagues from the Acibadem Maslak hosptial management team. They are all very proud of Alice’s achievements.
“His spine centre is one of the most advanced in Europe but not many people here will necessarily be aware of it.
“He set up and leads the Comprehensive Spine Centre at the Acibadem Maslak hospital. It is the most advanced spine centre in Europe and is on par with the best spine centres in USA.
“Many surgeons from all over the world visit it to be trained on surgical techniques. He is also responsible for organising courses in different parts of the world. He has been nominated to be the Chair of the European Spine Society and served on the board of the Scoliosis Research Society for two years.
“We found out about Dr Alanay after joining a very good closed Facebook group for parents of children with scoliosis.
“I also advise that parents check their children at least twice a year to spot signs of scoliosis. The best way to check is to ask a child to bend down and touch their toes and observe that there are no “humps” in the back.
“Another check is to ask the child to stand up and observe if the waist crease is the same on both sides.”