By Kathy Walsh
DENVER (CBS4)– A doctor at the Rocky Mountain Hospital for Children, RMHC, has spent a week learning what life is like for his young patients who must wear a back brace.
Dr. Jaren Riley, a pediatric orthopedic surgeon, has been wearing a back brace much like the ones he prescribes to treat scoliosis, a sideways curvature of the spine.
It hasn’t been easy, but what he’s learned has made it all worthwhile.
“I feel like a tube of toothpaste that has the last little bit of toothpaste in it and someone’s trying to squeeze it out of me,” said Riley.
For seven days now, the surgeon has challenged himself to walk in the shoes of his young patients.
“It is eye opening to say the least,” Riley told CBS4 Health Specialist Kathy Walsh.
He has been wearing the stiff, plastic, back brace for 18 hours a day.
“It comes up way up into the armpit to get a good push on the side chest wall,” he explained.
Riley prescribes the braces for his patients with scoliosis to keep the curve in their spines from getting worse and to try to avoid surgery.
Now, when fearful patients, the majority 12-year-old girls, ask what it’s like wearing a brace, the doctor can speak from experience.
“It’s hot and it gets in your way,” he said.
He demonstrated how it limits the wearer.
“You can’t really bend over and get it you kind of have to get down like this,” Riley said. “Instead of being able to turn around this way, I actually have to turn my whole self around.”
Riley now understands the tears he sees in his clinic.
“It gave me a lot of respect for these kids who do not complain and really tough their way through it,” he said.
At 7 p.m. Tuesday, the brace experiment ends.
“I am shamefacedly admitting that I am really am looking forward to taking it off,” Riley said.
The doctor will now take on a new challenge, coming up with a better way to treat scoliosis.
Some patients wear the brace for up to three years to prevent the curvature of the spine from worsening.