Changing the world, one shirt at a time
When I looked at my spine in an X-Ray, each vertebra twists in a serpentine. This snake was once my ally, until it betrayed me six years ago in a dull blue exam room. The disfigured spine on the screen made my heart freeze and the air catch in my throat. I had scoliosis. Was this misshapen architectural disaster really the backbone supporting my body?
A bone-hard plastic Boston Brace imprisoned me like an alien exoskeleton. It felt like my hip bones were being crushed. Dark shades of purple and green marked my protruding pelvis. The skin under my armpit was constantly being jabbed. The scratchy undershirt my orthotist had given me accumulated moisture, leading to heat rashes. Other undershirts lacked protection under my armpits, allowing my brace to cause raw, red, painful abrasions. I was facing years of discomfort from bracing in order to avoid risky spinal fusion surgery. I prayed for any kind of relief.
Store after store, hour after hour, shirt after shirt…nothing fit properly under or over my brace. My temple pulsed, my patience waned, and my self esteem tanked. I collapsed in a heap on the mall pavement, like a rag doll. Wasn’t wearing a scoliosis back brace twenty hours a day punishment enough? Didn’t other girls have the same issues with their braces? Frustrated, I asked my mom, “Why hasn’t anyone made clothing for kids who are braced for scoliosis?”
My mom researched this question and decided that it was time to solve this problem. With my help, and a team of clinicians, we began to work on the prototype for a better brace shirt. I was tugged, poked, and prodded. My arms burned from holding them over my head. My mom sighed. The prototype would need to be sent back again.
My mom and I flipped through swatches of fabric colors. What would teenage girls want to wear? The sea turquoise and raspberry stitching popped against the bright white tank prototype, while the marble white stitching highlighted the sides of the pitch black tank.
Spring two thousand and twelve was when our final prototype arrived. I ripped open the egg shell envelope like a birthday present, and slipped the smooth tank on. I strapped on my brace. The shirt shielded my vulnerable armpit area from poking and abrasions. It even slid all the way down past my hips, protecting them from the brace. I exclaimed “Mom, it hugs me perfectly!” Her eyes lit up and she said “Hug! Like an Embrace, Hope’s Embrace. That’s what we’ll call the shirt.”
Overall, I used my experience with scoliosis to make the journey easier for myself and other girls. Girls with scoliosis shouldn’t have to worry about clothing in addition to surgery, being bullied, and other body insecurities. The Hope’s Embrace® shirt is designed to provide protection from the brace. Its dri-fit fabric wicks away sweat and the shirt is cut to prevent underarm abrasions. Now, it’s easier for girls to meet their brace compliance hours because they have comfortable and stylish undershirts. Increased brace compliance decreases the likelihood of spinal fusion surgery.
My scoliosis journey has taught me that for every problem there is a solution. I recognized there was a need for a fashionable and functional brace undershirt because no one had developed one yet. My mom and I had to use our creativity to come up with the perfect solution. But, it didn’t happen overnight. We modified the first run of tanks and threw out many defective ones. However, we didn’t give up and we now sell internationally on hopescloset.com. Although I felt powerless at the time, I was able to provide some relief by creating the Hope’s Embrace® shirt. I learned that even when a situation seems out of my control, there’s always something I can do to make it better. This empowered me to take charge of my life.
Hope will attend Emory University in the fall to earn her Bachelor of Science in biology.