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Surgery allows girl to shed back brace

To celebrate her new freedom, aspiring actress, 14, attends 'Drama Queens' summer camp.

August 19, 2003|Shane Nelson | Times Staff Writer

Meghan Senegal hated the back-straightening brace she had had to wear 23 hours a day since she was 5 in an effort to correct scoliosis. Two metal bars pressed along her back from her neck to hips, parallel with her spine. Another ran up the front of her torso. A strap anchored them around her neck, forming a plastic girdle around her body.

She could remove the contraption only one hour a day to play soccer or take a shower. She'd wear turtlenecks all the time, even on hot days, so her schoolmates wouldn't know about the brace.

Two years ago, Meghan, then 12, underwent surgery to implant two titanium rods in her spine, hoping it would mean saying goodbye to the brace.

Her parents knew the risks associated with the operation, but they didn't anticipate the horrifying string of post-surgery complications that nearly killed their eldest daughter.

First, the 5-foot-1-inch girl suffered adverse reactions to the pain medication. Then she couldn't eat for weeks, and her weight dropped to 55 pounds. Her incisions became infected and had to be drained. And one time, after nurses removed an IV and left the room, Meghan stopped breathing. Her mother called frantically for a crew to revive her. After seven weeks in the hospital, Meghan went home attached to an IV and started home-schooling.

Because her recovery took six months instead of the expected 10 weeks, her parents struggled to pay the bills and find people to take care of their two younger children. Her mother, a bookkeeper, and her father, a truck driver, had to take time off of work. "It's a major alteration in your plans when you budgeted for only a couple months and then there's more," said her mother, Kim Senegal.

Now fully recovered and weighing 78 pounds, the 14-year-old is free of what her mom called the "medieval device." Last year, the eighth-grader earned straight A's, a considerable achievement for a girl who had to repeat second grade because she was behind in reading.

Earlier this month, Meghan went to camp for the first time -- the "Drama Queens" program at Camp Tautona in the San Bernardino Mountains, thanks to the Girl Scouts Spanish Trails Council and the Los Angeles Times Summer Camp Fund.

The camp suited the aspiring actress, whose mom says she has been a drama queen since she was born. When she was in first grade, she often went to the school office and acted "pitiful," so the women who worked there removed her brace, even though they weren't supposed to.

About 11,000 children will go to camp this summer, thanks to the $1.4 million raised last year.

The annual fund-raising campaign is part of the Los Angeles Times Family Fund, a fund of the McCormick Tribune Foundation, which this year will match the first $1 million in contributions at 50 cents on the dollar.

Donations are tax-deductible. For more information, call (213) 237-5771. To make credit card donations, visit /summercamp. To send checks, use the attached coupon. Do not send cash.

Unless requested otherwise, gifts of $25 or more are acknowledged in The Times.

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