A schoolgirl from the Philippines has received an early Christmas present, with lifechanging surgery gifted by Epworth HealthCare.

11-year-old Nichole Jamelo developed severe curvature of the spine, known as scoliosis. Her spine had two 90-degree bends in it, resembling the shape of an ‘S’.

Nichole, who is one of six children, said the scoliosis had a big impact on her life.

“It stopped me from doing sport and PE and I also used to get bullied at school,” Nichole said.

“But, it doesn’t stop me from excelling at my school.”

Two Australian missionaries, who visited her small community near Manilla, contacted Australian charity Children First Foundation to tell them about Nichole.

The foundation flew her to Melbourne, providing care and medical support both in the lead-up to and after the surgery.

The operation was undertaken on a pro-bono basis by spinal surgeon, Associate Professor Yi Yang, at Epworth Richmond. Epworth covered the theatre and other costs, with support from partners including donations from spinal implant companies, cell salvage and intra-operative neuromonitoring services, and Epworth Medical Imaging.

AssocProf Yang said the scoliosis was affecting Nichole physically and psychologically.

“It was causing her a great deal of physical distress because she was leaning over to one side, due to the stiffness of her spine,” AssocProf Yang said.

“It was affecting her walking and potentially having a compressive effect on her organs, including her lungs.”

A 10-person theatre team was assembled for the five-hour operation on Nichole’s back.

Guided by computer-aided navigation, which provides live three-dimensional imaging, AssocProf Yang placed 23 spinal screws into Nichole’s vertebrae, within millimetres of her spinal cord.

Two titanium rods were then attached to straighten the spine.

Throughout the operation, technicians sent electronic pulses through the spinal cord, to ensure the nerves were still functioning throughout the operation.

Nichole lost about a litre of blood during the surgery, which was suctioned, washed by a cell salvage team and then returned back into her body. This meant she did not require a blood transfusion following her surgery despite her blood loss.

After the surgery, Nichole spent more than a week in the paediatric ward at Epworth Richmond.

The ward’s Nurse Unit Manager, Meredith Elliott, said her team benefitted from being able to give something back by being involved in such a worthy case.

“When I first heard about Nichole’s case after a year of challenges, it gave me a warm feeling and the hope that something positive was to come out of 2020,” Ms Elliott said.

“I’ve cared for scoliosis patients for the past 17 years and Nichole’s case is hands down the most challenging I have been involved, with her spine curvature initially at 90 degrees.” Ms Elliott said she’s proud of the hard work done by the paediatric nursing and allied health teams, who are supporting Nichole.

“I commend and acknowledge all of their hard work and commitment throughout Nichole’s nine-day stay, giving her the best outcome. We were able to control her post-operative pain, getting her moving within 24 hours. Of course, we had lots of fun and laughs along the way.”

“Nichole is a truly brave and remarkable girl and we wish her well for the future.”

AssocProf Yang said he’s pleased to have been able to make a difference to Nichole’s life.

“We are very lucky in Australia, to have access to some of the best health care in the world. To be able to give an opportunity to someone like Nichole, who otherwise may not have had that opportunity, was a no-brainer so I jumped on board straight away.”

“To be able to make a difference to her life and to enable her to do what she wants to do in the future and achieve her goals in life, is personally satisfying.”

Children First Foundation CEO Elizabeth Lodge said Nichole is now resting and recovering at the Foundation’s Retreat in Kilmore.

“She is doing extremely well, looking brighter, stronger and straighter as each day passes,” Ms Lodge said.

“We are very proud to have worked with Epworth HealthCare to make a huge difference to Nichole’s life. We look forward to continuing this partnership to help more children like Nichole, who cannot access the surgery and treatment they desperately need in their own country.”

Nichole will enjoy an Australian Christmas in Kilmore. She is expected to return home early next year and can’t wait.

“It gives me hope to face the future. By having the surgery will give me self-confidence, self-worth, and a great testimony to tell the world.”


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