Osteoporosis Foundation
A Lifetime of Strong Bones
Teenager's Osteoporosis Story

Nia's Story:

It starts two years ago when I was an eighth grader in the Mildred E. Strang Middle School in Yorktown Heights, New York. At thirteen years old I was an avid athlete. I held every track record for the school, both boys and girls, and was playing basketball with the top high school and even collegiate players in the area. I pushed myself to and past my limits every day, never getting a break. But on top of this I was very concerned about my appearance and didn't eat correctly. I developed amenorrhea and was lucky to have periods twice a year. I felt fine but I had a drastic imbalance of hormones and was not obtaining the right amount of calcium in my diet. By the spring of that year my body was breaking down and during one basketball game in Purchase College it snapped (literally).

We were down by six with seven minutes to go in the second half when I pulled down a defensive rebound. I jumped up for the ball but when I landed I felt something snap, pop, break. I tried running up the court but every step I took sent a searing pain from my lower back down into my legs. It was the first time I'd ever cried on the court. My coach took me out right away and had the trainer rush to our bench. He told me to stretch and put heat on my back. He believed I had pulled a muscle. But as I was carried to my car and sent to the emergency room later that night I realized there was no way this was a pulled muscle. I had broken bones in the past, both my wrists, a couple of fingers, but never had the pain been this bad. I prayed it was nothing serious.

The doctor initially found nothing seriously wrong, and ordered a month of no exercise. A month later, I returned to the season loaded up on painkillers and Bengay, the same searing pain running down my leg. I played one of my best games that year but I can hardly remember it, I was in too much pain. My dad took me to more and more doctors, trying to figure out what was wrong, but they all said the same thing, that they couldn't find anything and that I should probably just get weekly massages until the pain had subsided. But it didn't. Finally, a doctor informed us that I had an inoperable tumor in my spinal canal that was the cause of all my pain. The doctor told me there was nothing he could do, that the worst-case scenario would be paralysis. My father refused to believe it and took me to yet more doctors, who all told us the same thing. They told me that unless I became paralyzed, I could continue to play as long as I could deal with the pain, that I couldn't make the condition worse. So I kept pushing through it.

That summer was one of the most painful for me. I woke up and played basketball every day, with my friends, with my teammates, but the pain never went away and I began dreading having to even walk. There were days when the pain was tolerable and days I couldn't get out of bed. I had to give up soccer because it was too painful to kick the ball, I had to give up running. All I had left was basketball and even that made me cry. Fall soon came. I was entering my first year of high school, and all I dreamed about was making the high school basketball team before it was too late. I woke up every morning to practice by myself, getting ready for tryouts. Finally the week in November came. Tryouts for the '07-'08 varsity basketball season began and I was planning to make it as a freshman, as proof to everybody that a five foot white girl could compete with the best and to prove to myself that I could get through this pain. But as the week went on things only got worse. The pain became intolerable, but I had no choice but to play.

When the coach talked to me after the week of tryouts and told me I had made the team I was elated, ecstatic, and the pain subsided. But with our first Saturday morning practice it resurfaced. A week later my dad got a phone call at work from me, telling him that I hadn't been able to walk down the stairs. We went to one last doctor who had me take one last MRI to see if the tumor had grown. That night the doctors called the house with the results. They told us they had "good news" for us. The previous findings had been incorrect. I did have a large cyst in my back, but it was completely benign and not causing my problems. However, it had been obscuring what was: I had had two broken bones in my back all along, apparently due to my low bone density levels.

It has been a long road back, months in a body cast, even longer in physical therapy, trying to change my eating habits and getting back to the physical state I had once been. But its all been worth it, I'm back and willing, needing, to make a difference. I want to spread awareness on the importance of healthy bones so that no other athlete has to go through what I did.