A Falmouth teenager battling a painful spinal condition is trying to help others by setting up the first UK branch of an international support group.
Emi Hopkins, 13, wants to create a Cornwall division of the US-based group Curvy Girls, after being diagnosed with scoliosis last October, and is currently raising money so she can achieve an ambition of visiting a convention in New York.
Keen sports-player Emi, from Meadowbank Road, has seen her activity restricted by the condition, which causes curvature of the spin and can in extreme cases lead to surgery to fuse a sufferer’s vertebrae, and wants to provide a forum for others in a similar position.
She said: “I get a lot of pain from it because my muscles have to stretch in a certain way to make up for the curve.
“I found out while training for a place with the county hockey team.
“The training was getting harder every week, with lots of bending over and my back was getting really painful every time I played.
“It got so painful that I had to give up training with the Cornwall Junior Development Centre. I still play it at school but I didn’t get through to play for Cornwall.”
Emi has recently had an MRI scan, and will see a surgeon in Exeter in May to “see what the plan might be.”
She may have to have spinal fusion surgery, which would straighten her spine but mean she has metal rods in her back for life, or it may be that she can get therapy to strengthen her muscles.
She said: “It affects about one in 200 people, but sometimes it’s very slight. There’s no known cause for it, and no known cure, apart from surgery or bracing.”
Emi said the pain is one aspect of the illness, but it also has an effect on girls’ self-confidence, and in teenagers the illness affects more girls than boys.
She said: “It’s bad for self esteem and confidence, and every teen girl worries about self-confidence.
“I get a lot of pain, because my spine curves in two places, my ribs come out on one side and the others go the other way, so when I bend over my ribs form a hump.
“I didn’t know about it last year, but with friends on the beach I think I’m going to be more worried about it, and I’m always a bit worried about what people will think if they see it.”
Emi found the forum online, and said it was a great help, as she could get support, advice, and information on treatment.
She said: “I was talking to them about it and said I wish there was a group over here, and the mum of the girl who started up the groups said to contact her and start one up here.
“It would be really good if I went [to New York], because I’ve been talking to them and it’s good to meet them.
“All the girls can meet each other and talk about it, with people they can relate to.”
“There are workshops, it’s good for self confidence, and information on health and treatments, as well as therapy and tips on how to reduce pain.”
Emi has been undertaking a 60-mile walk over the Easter holidays as part of a fundraising campaign that has seen friends take part in a sponsored run, busk in Truro, and hold a table top sale.
She said: “Me and my friend Hannah are doing a 60-mile sponsored walk along the coastal path with her dad.
“We will be camping at night, starting on Sunday and hopefully finishing on Tuesday, but will see how we do.”
Emi’s fundraising page can be found at http://www.gofundme.com/6y7ih4.