Ooltewah's Katilyn McAfee considers herself a curvy girl, but not in the way one might think. She recently established the first Tennessee chapter of Curvy Girls, an international support group for young girls that are diagnosed with scoliosis.
"I want more girls [with scoliosis] to know that they are not alone ... that there are others who are going through the same thing they are going through," the local 12-year-old said.
During what was meant to be a routine sports physical at her doctor's office, Kaitlyn instead received a diagnosis of scoliosis, a condition in which the spine curves abnormally, usually to the right or to the left. After x-rays, Kaitlyn discovered she has a 38-degree curve in her spine.
"We went in [to the doctor's office] thinking everything would be fine," Kaitlyn's mother Jennifer McAfee said. "I was upset for her and scared, and there was a little bit of a feeling of guilt that we had not noticed it before."
After getting her diagnosis, Kaitlyn and her parents began to read up on everything they could find about the medical condition, and, in the process, Kaitlyn discovered the Curvy Girls website. She saw that no chapter of the support group existed in Tennessee and decided that needed to change.
"Kaitlyn is one of those personalities that when she sets her mind to something, she'll figure out how to make it work," her mom said. "It's very impressive to watch her do this."
The mother and daughter duo contacted the original founder of Curvy Girls, Leah Stoltz in New York, and received the paperwork to get the process rolling. In June, Kaitlyn, along with her mother, attended the first Curvy Girls international convention in Long Island, N.Y., where Kaitlyn learned skills that would enable her to lead the support groups on her own.
"It's definitely a peer-driven group," Jennifer McAfee explained. "Not only is Kaitlyn helping [other girls], but they are helping her too."
One of Kaitlyn's, as well as the organization's, main purposes in facilitating the support groups is to ensure that the girls feel emotionally supported throughout their journey with scoliosis. During a typical Curvy Girls group meeting, the members, usually ranging in age from 12-18 years old, are free to talk about everything from fresh scoliosis research to tips on how to wear the latest fashion trends in spite of a bulky back brace.
Kaitlyn wears a back brace for 16 hours a day in an effort to keep the scoliosis from progressing and possibly resulting in a need for surgery. She said she is eager to find and share ways to make sure her brace doesn't interfere with her day-to-day activities as well as her preference in clothing.
"The brace definitely affects my clothes; I don't want it to be noticeable," Kaitlyn said. "It's really hard to get ready in the morning. I can't even hold my hands above my head [with the brace on]."
Other than leading the group meetings, Kaitlyn has big plans for the Tennessee chapter, including a 5k run scheduled for June 2013. She plans to put any money that is raised toward scoliosis research in hopes of finding better treatment options or even a cure.