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How young scoliosis sufferer Emily finds comfort and relief with Bradford Cathedral choir singing
Buy this photo Emily Green with her mum Sam and music teacher Jonathan Eyre
Singing is Emily Green’s antidote to pain. Taking the breaths she needs to vocalise is also helping in her rehabilitation following an eight-hour operation to correct her twisted spine caused by a condition she was diagnosed with when she was five months old.
Scoliosis is an abnormal curvature of the spine. It affects the appearance of the back potentially causing back pain.
Emily’s condition was diagnosed after she was rushed to hospital with infantile pneumonia. Investigations revealed Emily’s spine was severely twisted affecting her lungs.
Emily’s mum, Sam, explains that because Emily was so young her initial treatment was casting. She was put in plaster from her hips to her shoulders every three months for two years to try and prevent her spine bending any further. Emily also had regular x-rays to check her spine wasn’t impacting on other organs such as her heart and lungs.
During her treatment, Emily also tried a specially-made lycra suit, similar to a wet suit, which is supposed to act like the cast, but Sam recalls by the time Emily had been measured for the suit, she had already grown.
Emily also has to cope with regular physio and painkillers as part of her treatment, but she knew she would eventually have to undergo an operation – what she or her mum didn’t anticipate is it would be sooner rather than later.
Sam explains the intention was to delay the operation until Emily had grown, but the rapid progression of her curvature prompted a decision to be made.
“They always wanted to leave it until she was 15 or 16, but it was progressing too quickly. If it continued to bend, it could push on to her heart making her breathing even more difficult,” explains Sam.
Emily underwent the major operation at Manchester Royal Children’s Hospital on October 1 last year. Sam recalls as her daughter was being wheeled into theatre she was chatting away about the pastime which has become an important part of her life – singing.
Emily joined Bradford Cathedral choir in January 2012 after participating in a concert there with Bradford primary schools.
“Emily did it with Myrtle Park, loved it and the experience of being in the Cathedral and was desperate to join so she started doing junior choir on Saturday morning,” explains Sam.
Emily became a chorister in September last year, earning her first white ribbon and acknowledging her initial training. She has since achieved her Grade 1 singing examination with distinction and her Grade 2 and has recently passed her Grade 3 with a merit.
“It is the only thing she can do that doesn’t cause her any pain. We go through phases of things – we’ve done dancing, bike riding – but singing is one thing she found she could do naturally and it doesn’t cause her any pain,” says Sam.
She recalls her daughter, then 11, telling the hospital porter about her singing before she went into theatre. “She was talking about it while they were putting her to sleep and I think one of the things she said when she came round was about the choir.”
Sam explains during the operation Emily had two spinal rods fitted which are now fused to her spine. “The biggest difference is she is two and a half inches taller and she is a lot straighter,” says Sam.
“It is still early days. She still has pain, but nowhere near as bad as it used to be.”
Emily still has her physio and pain relief but her pastime has proved a real tonic in her recuperation too. “One of the biggest things is her breathing. Through singing you have to learn how to breathe differently; you learn how to use your diaphragm properly.
"Emily breathes from quite high up in her chest and doesn’t always use her full capacity. One of her lungs is a bit smaller because it has been squashed a little bit, but obviously through singing she has learned how to breathe properly and control her breathing and it means the muscles in her rib cage are working better,” explains Sam.
Through singing Emily has also found confidence to cope with the condition which affects her daily life. “From being two or three, she was always different to every other kid,” says Sam, referring to the PE sessions her daughter missed out on due to being in plaster or the school trips she couldn’t participate in.
One of Emily’s frustrations was not being able to do a forward roll. “She always hated the fact she had to be different because she is the most determined little girl. It takes a lot to stop her but the singing has given her an opportunity to make new friends and it has done wonders for her confidence.
“It takes her mind off it, it gives her something to focus on. Singing isn’t just good for you physically, it is good for you spiritually and mentally as well.”
Emily’s passion for singing has also prompted Sam to get involved. Spending time at the Cathedral, Sam found herself volunteering. She combines this role with caring for her disabled father.
Through her work with the church, Sam also helps out with St Wilfrid’s in their home town of Bingley, the family have received strength and support to cope.
“We have had lots of support from our church and our vicar,” says Sam, adding that they had also received ‘amazing’ support from the Cathedral staff.
“The other side of it for me and Emily is the Christian aspect of it. It is like a big family up there. It isn’t that the music department is separate to the rest of the Cathedral, it is a big family.”
Jonathan Eyre, assistant director of music and Emily’s music teacher at Bradford Cathedral, explains: “Emily has a wonderful talent for singing and given all the problems she has had it gives her stability in terms of it is something for her to do and the breathing exercises we do have been remarkably good for her lungs.
“Singing is good for you, anyway, the British Heart Foundation did a study on singing and they did a whole thing about how singing can improve your well-being because it improves your breathing which is good and encourages blood flow through the body.
“As far as Emily is concerned for her recovery, increasing her lung capacity and the way her muscles work around her body through singing has been vital to her in increasing her ability to do things; she doesn’t get out of breath as often and it generally keeps her well.”