By the time 14-year old Yorlene Reyes came to St. Louis from Honduras, her spine was deformed with a severe 132-degree curve.  The scoliokyphosis, thought to be the result of a genetic mutation, caused Yorlene to have a lateral and posterior curve that threatened her spinal cord and lung capacity.  More than anything, the curve affected her quality of life.

Propapa Missions connected Yorlene to an American family and host mother Lila Benitez in Long Island, New York.

In January 2010, Yorlene and her family came to St. Louis to begin weeks of treatment leading up to a very risky surgery that would straighten her spine.  She was placed in traction and began weeks of preparation at Shriner’s Hospital for Children.

Yorlene was transferred to St. Louis Children’s Hospital on February 23, where she spent nearly 10 hours in the operating room as doctors and nurses worked to fix her spine.  Dr. Lenke and his comprehensive team worked first to remove several levels of her spine to correct the dramatic curve.  With high-tech equipment in the operating room constantly monitoring Yorlene’s condition during the surgery, Dr. Lenke placed two permanent metal rods and dozens of screws to support and protect her back and spinal cord.  As the complex surgical corrections were made, Dr. Lenke proceeded very carefully to prevent damage to Yorlene’s spinal cord.  The risky surgery proved to be a success. 


Before and after surgery photos of Yorlene's back.

Within a single day, Yorlene’s spine went from a 149-degree curve pre-surgery, to a curve of about 50-degrees, much closer to what is considered ‘normal’ for a child’s spine.  Recovery in the weeks following the surgery was difficult and often painful for Yorlene, especially during therapy to rebuild her strength.  But for the first time, Yorlene was finally able to sit, stand and walk with an almost straight back.  Lila even joked that Yorlene looked a little taller almost immediately.

It would not be long before Yorlene would resume doing the things that she loved -- listening to music, playing games and watching television shows with Lila as the healing continued.  Dr. Lenke and his team who followed Yorlene’s condition closely were pleased with her progress.

Yorlene’s post-surgery improvement continued through early April when doctors said she was well enough to travel back to New York with Lila. As Yorlene shares her ongoing progress via phone with her family in Honduras, it is not yet known when she will be returning home to her own country.  But in the meantime, her new ‘extended families’ at St. Louis Children’s and Shriner’s Hospitals will look forward to seeing her at least once more for a follow-up visit later this summer.




Patient Stories