Two Isico patients among the final selection for Miss Italia

We present two young women who hope to be chosen in the next Miss Italia contest finals as “the fairest of them all”. Lavinia and Cecilia, as well as being beautiful girls who have reached the final of Miss Italia, also have another thing in common: both have had to overcome many hurdles from a very young age, when they were diagnosed with curvature of the spine at our centre and had to embark on a lengthy course of bracing treatment. Looking at their smiling faces today, it is hard to imagine the struggle of those long years spent “braced up” and the determination they had to show in order to get where they are now. 

We spoke to both girls just after they won their place in the final. We were keen to know how Miss Lazio (Lavinia) and Miss Umbria (Cecilia) felt. 

Cecilia, 22, wore a brace for nine years, while Lavinia, 18, is still undergoing treatment that began five years ago when she was diagnosed with a 53° scoliosis curve. This has since been reduced to 35°. 

For both of them, their treatment, from the outset, involved wearing a brace for most of the day: “I had just turned 12 when it all began” Cecilia recalls. “I found it really hard to accept that I would have to spend years encased in plastic. Daily life was a real struggle and I well remember how upset I got every day, because I felt so awkward and stiff inside that kind of case. I remember the tight belts and the sound of the Velcro being pulled open when I took the brace off. I remember the sore patches and how anxious I was that I wouldn’t be loved or accepted in my new “shell” and wouldn’t receive all the attention, affection and hugs I had before. And yet, if it weren’t for my brace and all the self-correction exercises I did, I wouldn’t be the girl I am today”.

As for Lavinia, she turned to us in the hope of being able to avoid surgery for her scoliosis: “Of all the spine centres I consulted, Isico was the only one willing to try bracing treatment, despite the severity of my curve. I have to admit that those were difficult years for me, but I never stopped doing the things I love, like dancing, singing and going out with friends. Thanks to Isico and also to my own determination, I have made a considerable improvement. My curve has been reduced by almost 20°, and even though I don’t have a perfectly straight back, I have learned to love and accept my body the way it is.” 

Both girls firmly believe nothing can stop you from doing what you want and dream of doing. Obviously, you have to show loads of determination and perseverance, the two qualities that have enabled them to win places in the final of Miss Italia and, above all, get through years of treatment, during which they learned to treat their brace as that “friend” you love to hate, who has been by their side throughout their journey and helped them to become stronger people. “There will always be times when you don’t like yourself, with or without your brace, and if you happen to come across someone who doesn’t accept you because of it, you need to remember that it certainly isn’t your fault” Lavinia goes on. “This competition has shown me beyond doubt that my back hasn’t affected my appearance, and that it has actually made me more self-confident!”.

Because, in the end, a brace is also an ally. Both girls stress that “if you are patient, you will get results” and that a limitation, in this case in the form of a tricky condition like scoliosis, can turn out to be an unexpected opportunity: “We must all learn to love ourselves, have the courage to rise to the challenge, and fight prejudice without letting go of our dreams” Cecilia says. “I would like to be a voice encouraging acceptance of our limitations, because in an inclusive world we need to show ourselves the way we are and draw attention to the sacrifices that have made us strong. It is like we are all on a river in full flow and our brace is the boat that can help us make it to the open sea, where new lands and new horizons are just waiting to be explored”.  

This isn’t the first time we have had Miss Italia finalists; it is simply the first time we have had two together. “And it won’t be the last!” says Prof. Stefano Negrini, scientific director of Isico. “I am starting to wonder whether this phenomenon might be linked to the determination that people who face the difficulties in life manage to acquire in part thanks to the help of those around them. The effort you have to put in with a brace is a major investment in your future that gives fantastic results, also in an aesthetic sense. Could it perhaps be that these girls are keen for the world to see how they are not only because of the beauty Mother Nature has given them, but also because it represents the fruit of years of sacrifice and hard work? I’m not sure if we’ll ever get the answer to this question, but I like to think that there is something in this — that we are able to give our patients not just healthy and attractive backs, but also all the strength, pride and determination they need to fight for their goals. All hugely important values in life. So, well done Cecilia and Lavinia. Whatever the result of the competition, you are already winners!”.

A judo champion in brace

My name is Giulia. I live in Genoa, and I am in my third year of Middle School. I am just like many other girls: I have my friends, I love the sea in summer, and I have my hobbies and interests, the main one being judo. 

In January 2020, I was diagnosed with idiopathic scoliosis. My parents requested several consultations before we ended up at ISICO.

It was a challenging and upsetting process for me and my parents, who struggled to know the best course of action to take.

To begin with, my treatment was just daily exercises: every month, I had a session with my physiotherapist, Martina, and every four months, a medical check-up with Dr Fabio Zaina, a physiatrist at ISICO.

It was quite a tough period because I had to do my exercises every day, regardless of homework, daily judo training, and holidays. When each check-up came around, I would get really anxious about what my curve would measure.

In April this year, it was found to have gotten worse, and Dr Zaina prescribed a brace. At first, I didn’t take it very well, as I started thinking about everything this would stop me from doing. I was thinking about my sport, my summer, going to the sea, and so on. My family were alarmed, too, but we soon calmed down thanks to Martina’s support.

It only seems like yesterday when Mum and I went to the orthopaedic office to collect my brace. I remember the tests and adjustments needed to make it feel as comfortable as possible. During the first “test run”, I really felt I couldn’t breathe and struggled to do even the most basic movements. Then, gradually, something seemed to change. Together with Mum, I started doing increasingly complex movements, like sitting down and getting up from benches in the play park close to where we live, walking faster and faster until I was doing short runs. By the end of that morning, it felt like my brace and I were getting to know each other: I was starting to adapt. The first night I managed to sleep quite well, and my new life began the following day. Luckily, my prescription was for 18 hours per day, so I could plan my days, concentrating all my sporting activities during my brace-off hours. 

In those early months, I started to measure this new situation, trying to set myself goals and then working to achieve them. I wanted to know how many things I could still do from my previous life with a brace on. 

So, I made a list and started to tick them off: walk to school with a backpack on; ride a bicycle; do a handstand (this one was pretty difficult); do a head-over-heels (I managed this after lots of tries). When the summer came, and I swapped sweatshirts for lighter clothes, I found myself having to try out new solutions and change my look a bit, opting for slightly looser T-shirts, but the brace wasn’t that obvious under them. And then, it was the school holidays.

Since I spend most of my summer on the beach, I had to rethink my brace-wearing schedule to fit some sun and sea into my brace-off hours and my training, which gets more intensive in the summer. To stick to the six hours allowed, I worked out a method that actually worked well: I decided that my brace-off hours would end exactly when my training sessions did and calculated them on that basis, counting back six hours to know exactly when they should start. At the allotted time, I would take off my brace and put on a costume to enjoy the sun and the waves. On the hottest days, though, even that solution seemed impossible, and after talking to Martina, I started removing the sensor from my brace so that I could also go in the sea with it on. Gradually, everything fell into place, and my everyday life became “easy” again, basically because I could still do pretty much everything I used to do. 

After a year’s break due to the pandemic, judo competitions started again. July brought the Italian Championships, my first ever. After taking part in, and winning, the regional qualifications, I went to Ostia for the national championships. I got through three matches and then won the final, which I was amazed about because I really hadn’t expected to. I automatically qualified for the next Italian Championships in November, thanks to that result.

The summer raced by, as there was so much going on – beach time, training, family holidays. Everything was just like normal!

In September, after returning to school, I started training for the new Italian Championships in November. I was to compete in the beginners’ B -40KG category: I was determined to defend the title I had won in the summer. So, I worked out a new daily plan, including school, gym sessions and free time, and threw myself headlong into this new challenge. 

On 14 November, I went back to Ostia, in some ways more excited than the first time but also more aware of the challenge I faced. Once again, I had four matches, and I retained my title as Italian champion in my category! I was even more thrilled than the first time because more athletes were competing on this occasion and, technically, the standard was higher. That was the day I realised that if you really want something and fight for it, nothing can stop you, even a problem like ours. We are just the same as everyone else!

When I first learned that I had to start wearing a brace, I read some of the stories of others like me fighting scoliosis. They said that your brace, in the end, becomes a kind of travelling companion, a friend who is always there for you throughout the day.  I didn’t really believe that, and I thought they were just words meant to encourage others like me.

But, you know, it really is true, and even though I would have preferred not to have to go through all this, it hasn’t stopped me from reaching the highest step on the podium and being happy!