A little girl who dreams of one day becoming an astronaut has developed an S-shaped spine and needs a $100,000 surgery on the other side of the world to fix it.

Gaelle Stanfield, 11, was born "perfectly healthy". Until the age of 10, she was an active girl who loved skiing, tap dancing, netball and playing her violin.

Then, "out of the blue" she started complaining of a sore back.

"We lifted up her shirt up and could see her spine was crooked so we went to the doctor and got an x-ray which showed the extent of how much her spine had curved," Gaelle's father Rob Stanfield told the Herald.


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The young Aucklander was diagnosed with Idiopathic Scoliosis, one of three types of scoliosis that causes the spine to develop an abnormal curve. In severe cases, like Gaelle's, it can begin to crush the lungs and heart.

"I kept telling her to stand up straight, but when we discovered her condition I felt awful. You feel like as a mum you should know these things," Gaelle's mother Bertha Aouad said.

Though scoliosis is not classed as a life-threatening condition, left untreated, patients can live in agony.

"It's awful watching her in so much pain," she said.

"She can't walk or stand up longer than two minutes. She needs to sit down regularly to rest her back."

In four weeks, Gaelle and her family will travel to Barcelona for a life-changing surgery, known as Anterior Scoliosis Correction (ASC), that costs more than $100,000 - excluding accommodation, travel and ongoing medical costs.

ASC is a minimally invasive surgical procedure designed to eliminate the abnormal sideways curvature of the spine. As this form of treatment is still new, it is not yet available in New Zealand.


Instead, medical professionals in New Zealand offer spinal fusion surgery, which is essentially a welding process whereby two or more vertebrae are fused together so they heal into a single solid bone. If Gaelle was to get this procedure, she would have to wait another three years until she has finished growing.

"Waiting for fusion surgery is not an option for Gaelle as her curve is getting worse rapidly. Last year her lumbar curve was 36 degrees, now its 50 degrees - that's how drastic it is," Rob said.

Bertha said the limited advice they had received from New Zealand health professionals was frustrating.

"The option of ASC was never mentioned to us. I had to do my own research and we are just so lucky we have been able to get hold of one of the top surgeons in the world able to do it."

The family have been speaking to another New Zealand family whose child recently went to Spain for the same surgery, with "amazing results".

After surgery, Gaelle will spent one week in hospital and up to two months off school resting. She will also need extensive physio-therapy to recover.

A Givealittle page has been set up to support the family and has raised nearly $1500 in two days.

Rob said they had taken out a bank loan to pay for the surgery in the meantime.

Idiopathic scoliosis:

• Idiopathic scoliosis is one of three different types of scoliosis that cause the spine to develop an abnormal curve.

• The condition tends to run in families and affects girls eight times as often as boys.

• About three out of every 100 people have some form of scoliosis.

• In many cases, idiopathic scoliosis is mild and requires no treatment other than close monitoring.

• In moderate cases (25 to 45 degree curve), patients are often treated with bracing to keep the spine in a straighter position as the child grows.

• In severe cases (the curve is greater than 45 degrees), it is usually treated with surgery. Spinal fusion is most common procedure; the surgeon uses metal rods, hooks, screws and wires to correct the curve.

• Anterior Scoliosis Correction (ASC) is a new surgery which aims to reduce the degree of the curve and untwist it using screws and a flexible cord.