We’re all ‘bent to be strong.’ This is the motto that Christine Sinn, a 16-year-old entrepreneur from Northern Virginia, adopted to encourage her community of scoliosis warriors. It is a motto that has been in development since she was 12 years old when her pediatrician noticed that one side of her back was higher than the other. A subsequent X-ray showed the S-shaped curve and a routine annual exam ended with a diagnosis of scoliosis – something about which Christine knew very little. A diagnosis of scoliosis can be overwhelming, and in some cases, it can influence one’s future path.
Following her scoliosis diagnosis, Christine was referred to National Scoliosis Center where she was fitted for a Rigo Cheneau brace by Chief Orthotist Luke Stikeleather. She found Luke and his staff to be welcoming and positive throughout her treatment, and she began to understand how significant their support would be to her treatment.
“I was included in designing and creating my brace. Mr. Luke was always willing to help find creative solutions to the challenges I faced. When I found the brace too hot, we drilled holes in it to help the flow of air. They walked me through all of it. The empathy and kindness of Luke and the National Scoliosis Center staff inspired me to pay that forward.”
Christine recalls that the early teen and middle school years – when many patients are diagnosed – can be an awkward time, even without the challenge of wearing a brace for 22 hours a day. While her friends were very encouraging, she wants to be sure that all new patients feel fully supported going through the same experiences.
“Having scoliosis actually gave me the chance to open up and explore other interests more fully,” says Christine.
With extra time on her hands during the pandemic, Christine decided to use her amazing attitude, entrepreneurial spirit, and a renewed passion for math and computer science to find a way to support others diagnosed with scoliosis. She started learning about coding through YouTube videos and online courses. She enrolled in Wharton’s Future of the Business World online course, and she started to form a vision of a way to provide connection and support to a large scoliosis community. Soon her app, ScolioBend, started to become a reality.
“Most scoliosis patients are teenagers and most teenagers have a phone. I wanted to reach out, connect to them, and ultimately help them know they are not alone. A phone app was the perfect way to do that,” says Christine. “ScolioBend offers resources to help support patients through both the physical and the emotional challenges of the scoliosis treatment process. I want to urge other patients to open up and share their thoughts and feelings. A scoliosis diagnosis comes with a lot of changes and the ScolioBend app can help guide patients through those changes.”
Features of the app include informative articles on types, symptoms, and treatments of scoliosis, as well as common myths about the condition. The app offers a list of resources and contacts that can be helpful for patients and their families during the treatment process. Christine has also included a section in which she shares insights related to her personal journey with scoliosis. With her inviting and warm tone, she offers her community a vulnerable look at the ways she navigated the challenge of coming to terms with her diagnosis and sharing her story with her friends.
While scoliosis patients have much in common, Christine acknowledges that curves differ in severity so that everyone has a unique path. She hopes to engage with the app’s users so that she can be sure that it continues to be valuable and meets the differing needs in the community. From addressing the difficulty of finding clothing to conceal a brace to the adjustment of physical activities to the challenge of traveling through airport security, the app will offer advice on a wide range of concerns. Christine emphasizes that ScolioBend will be a living and breathing “in-process” endeavor.
ScolioBend is now available to download for free in the iPhone App Store. In addition, Christine encourages patients of National Scoliosis Center to visit the website www.scoliobend.com for more information and opportunities to become a member of the ScolioBend team.
Going forward Christine also hopes to forge partnerships, to release guides and resources for everyday life with scoliosis, and to offer opportunities for community-building events.
“When I was first diagnosed with scoliosis I felt completely alone, so I want to make sure that new patients know that they have a community,” says Christine. “My vision for the ScolioBend app is to reach out to as many patients as possible to empower and connect them. I want a new patient to know that he or she is not defined by scoliosis and that this journey can open their perspective and give them a chance to try new things and explore new interests. I used to think scoliosis was a curse, but now I believe it’s a calling: a calling to ride on a marvelous journey that brings you to a you that has grown into something beautiful.”