Metro teen whose spine is curving abnormally turns to overseas treatment after insurance denies coverage

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LONE JACK, Mo. -- Madison Bruce is an active 14-year-old. She’d like to stay that way.

“It's hard to run and sometimes I can't sleep,” said Madison, who is in constant battle with her body.

Two years ago, she was diagnosed with scoliosis. Her spine is curving abnormally. You can clearly see it an X-ray of her spine and the curve can even be visible through clothing. Left untreated, her condition could eventually compress her lungs, making it difficult for her to breathe.

To help relieve the pain and pressure, Madison works with a chiropractor and straps herself into a vibrating machine every day to keep her spine flexible. But the only permanent solution is surgery. The typical surgery involves fusing a steel rod to the spine. That can leave patients with limited movement, which is hard to accept when you are only 14 years old.

That’s why University of Missouri Orthopedic Surgeon Dan Hoerschemeyer told Madison about a much newer procedure – vertebral body tethering – which uses ropes and pulleys to train the spine back into normal alignment.

Dr. Hoerschemeyer shared before and after photos of young patients who had the surgery. To the untrained eye, their backs looked normal afterwards. But Dr. Hoerschemeyer said the best part is that the young patients feel normal because they can move freely.

“I think the huge benefit is the preservation of motion,” the doctor said.

Madison and her mother Lori Bruce were thrilled to learn about the procedure and felt confident their insurance would cover the $150,000 price tag.

“The procedure is considered experimental for scoliosis, but Blue Cross Blue Shield in other states had paid for it,” Bruce said.

But a week before Madison’s surgery, Blue Cross Blue Shield denied her coverage.

“It was like hitting a brick wall,” Madison’s mom said.

Plus, Madison was running out of time. Surgery candidates must be young enough to still have growth and flexibility left in their spine, Dr. Hoerschemeyer said.

Madison’s mom refused to give up.

“I told somebody I would live in my car and eat Ramen noodles every day if I thought I could get her a straight spine,” Lori Bruce said with tears welling in her eyes. “If you knew how much I hate Ramen noodles you'd know how much that means. “

The mother of three, tracked down a doctor in Germany who would do the surgery for about $44,000. That’s less than a third of what it would have cost in the United States.

But it still hasn’t been easy to come up with the money. The family has maxed out their credit cards and cleaned out a retirement account. Even that wasn’t enough, which is why they contacted FOX 4 Problem Solvers. The hope is that with the public’s help, Madison can have the surgery that she needs. They’ve set up you caring account, but time is running out.

“We live in America the greatest country in the world,” Lori Bruce said. “How do I have to take my daughter to Germany for surgery? It’s hard.”

But if there is anything she has learned from watching her daughter, it is not to give up.

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