Before she underwent surgery for scoliosis, S. Sumitra Devi did not like stepping out of the house, much less pursuing a degree, her doctors said.

Now, though, the petite 18-year-old is looking forward to applying to colleges, and hopes to get into the Vellore Institute of Technology.

Sumitra was one of four recent patients at Rajiv Gandhi Government General Hospital who underwent surgery for scoliosis, a condition in which there is an abnormal curvature in the normally straight spine. There are many types of scoliosis, but the most common is idiopathic — where there is no specific, identifiable cause.

“This is the only government hospital in Tamil Nadu where these surgeries are performed. We have been doing them since 2012, but from this year they are being performed free under the Chief Minister’s comprehensive health insurance scheme,” said Nalli Yuvaraj, professor of spine surgery, Institute of Orthopaedics and Traumatology at the hospital, at a press meet on Thursday.

Scoliosis affects more girls than boys and, in severe cases, can affect lung and heart capacity and lead to difficulty in walking. It can also reduce a person’s life-span, Dr. Yuvaraj said. “Besides, many of those affected feel shunned by society,” he said.

Over the last two years, the hospital has performed 18 such surgeries. The surgery involves using bone screws to correct the curvature and, eventually, fusing the vertebrae together permanently. However, surgery will not perfectly straighten the spine; the goal is correct the curve to the extent that it does not affect spinal cord function, explained N. Deen Muhammad Ismail, director of the institute.

“The surgery cannot be performed on very young children, as the fusion will affect their growth. In these cases, we call the children in every six months and stretch their spine with growth rods until they are ready for surgery. But when a patient is older than 16, the spine becomes stiff and the surgery becomes more difficult,” Dr. Ismail said.

Of the three other patients, the youngest was a nine-year-old girl from Tiruvallur.

At private hospitals, the surgery costs upwards of Rs. 4 lakh, doctors said.

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