Among the traditional milestones high school students experience, Leah Themistokleous’s full spinal fusion surgery was certainly unusual, but literally, formative. After an 8-hour surgery, two titanium rods and 22 screws, the Brookeville, Maryland student woke up from surgery 2 1/2 inches taller, and knew she could help many more children and adolescents affected by scoliosis.
Serving as a volunteer ambassador for Setting Scoliosis Straight, Leah’s volunteerism helps to empower millions of people impacted by scoliosis and their families. The now 17-year-old rising high school senior is using experiences from her life-changing health journey to fundraise, raise awareness and support innovation and treatment of spinal deformities in children and adolescents in her community and around the world.
What inspires you to volunteer?
Connecting with others who are undergoing surgery and helping them get through it inspires me. It is very meaningful that I can help people who have the same problem as me through a very anxious, frustrating journey.
Describe your volunteerism with Setting Scoliosis Straight.
As a volunteer ambassador, I fundraise to support research, host patient webinars, raise awareness and share education online about scoliosis, and serve as an advocate at various events including recently with the FDA’s Patient and Caregiver Connection. When people donate through my personal page to support research, I send them a homemade scoliosis themed jewelry piece.
Share one personal story with me from your volunteerism.
I met a girl on a scoliosis Facebook group who was one year older than me, but she hadn’t received surgery yet. We ended up meeting in person, and became really good friends. She was really nervous ahead of her surgery, and helping to ease her anxiety was really good for me because I remember being really nervous before my surgery. At times, I’ve struggled because I don’t always ask for help. Volunteering is a big thing in my life, and I get to make other people feel good about themselves too.
Why do you think it’s important for others to give back?
It’s important to inspire other people to volunteer. Volunteer work helps people get through hard times, and on a greater scale, helps communities and keeps generations moving forward.
What do you want people to learn from your story?
You gain so much strength and become an even better person through challenging journeys, because you can learn from what you endure, and overall, become a better person.
In one word, what does volunteering mean to you?
When you’re not busy with school or volunteering, what do you do for fun?
I love to vacation with my friends. I’ve been a competitive cheerleader for seven years and I was the cheer team high school captain. I unfortunately can’t tumble anymore but I’m really good at dancing.
How can readers help?
Do you want to make a difference in your community like Leah Themistokleous? Find local volunteer opportunities.