Kasia Sikora Image Credit: Supplied

Dubai: A thrill of joy passed through 17-year-old Kasia Sikora as she slipped her feet into her familiar old ballet shoes for the first time in eight months after suffering from excruciating pain that had made her give up her passion. She thought she would never put on those dancing shoes again, but here she was twirling to a classical symphony. Pain-free as she felt her toes in the pretty pink shoes, she could not help but smile with happiness and relief.

In January 2018, the grade 12 student of Dubai American Academy suddenly experienced pain in her lower back, radiating to her legs. “I have always been a very healthy person, very active, bicycling, horse riding, playing sports. I have never been sick or visited a hospital during these years. When I experienced this pain, I was surprised. I could have never imagined it could be this terrible,” recalled Sikora, an Australian expatriate in Dubai.

Feeling weak

Although she ignored it initially, Sikora was compelled to seek medical help as the pain got worse and she could barely walk. “Within a couple of months after I experienced the pain for the first time, it became progressively worse. I would have this involuntary shaking of my legs, experience excruciating pain in my lower back and feel I had lost all strength in my legs,” said Sikora.

The family consulted at least four health specialists around town but no one could find out the cause. “One doctor advised my parents to seek psychological counselling for me as he thought I was fussing about pain which had no origin,” she said.

Eventually the young girl consulted Dr Nicandro Figueiredo, Spinal Neurosurgeon at Medcare Orthopaedics and Spine Hospital, who was able to discover an aggressive spinal meningeal cyst in her lower back. “I have operated upon spinal cysts, but Kasia’s congenital cyst was the largest I have ever operated on, measuring 7cm x 5cm. I have earlier operated on cysts no larger than 3cm. The cerebro-spinal fluid was collecting in the cyst, had arrested the proper growth of her bone and required to be disconnected, ligated and drained,” explained Dr Figueirado.

The surgery was successfully conducted in mid-August and Sikora recovered rapidly, rejoining school in September as it reopened after the summer break. “I was in pain and could barely sit up. But with regular physiotherapy twice a day and proper care, I was using the walker to drag myself slowly to school when it reopened. The physiotherapy helped me back on my feet by September end,” said Sikora.

For someone who was told she would never be able to dance, Sikora surprised her dad when she donned her ballet shoes last month and attended her first ballet class after the surgery. “I love ballet and was so happy that I could do it successfully without any pain. I know I am not going to be a professional ballet dancer but at least I can slowly resume my ballet lessons,” she said.

Left to right: Dr Nicandro Figeirado with 17-year old Kasia Sikora and her parents, William and Margaret Image Credit: Medcare Orthopaedics and Spine Hospital

What can be done

Dr Figuerido added that Sikora would be able resume all her activities except riding the bicycle and horse riding. “Sikora’s sacral bone is very thin as the cyst did not allow it to develop fully. Therefore, she must not indulge in any activity that impacts the sacral bone. Bicycling and horse riding can result in bumps and thumps that could damage the thin sacral bone,” he explained.

But for now, Sikora, her parents William and Margaret and two other siblings are thrilled that she is back on her feet and doing most of the things she could earlier perform. “I had faith in Dr Figueirado the moment I met him. There is a chance of recurrence of the cyst but now I will be regularly going in for screening and am so glad I am pain-free and have no weakness in my legs,” said the delighted teenager.

What are sacral spinal cysts

Sacral extradural spinal meningeal cysts (SESMCs) are located in the sacral canal in the spine. While there are different categories of cysts some containing nerve endings and some without these, most cysts contain cerebro-spinal fluid that compresses the nerves in the sacral region causing excruciating pain and weakness.

Surgeons either drain the liquid and decompress the nerves or can open the cyst, isolate it from the sacral canal, ligate and excise it for a better solution.