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Wednesday 1 February 2023 Dublin: 8°C
# straight2swimming
'Being able to talk to other parents has helped ease the worry'
A free swimming programme is helping children with scoliosis build strength and confidence.

S2S 5 Conor Healy Photography Ava Rock, Senan Phillips and Sienna Cassidy with programme instructor Emma Browne Conor Healy Photography

A SWIMMING PROGRAMME specifically designed for children with scoliosis is being rolled out in Cork, after proving to be a success in Kildare and Belfast.

Straight2Swimming is the world’s first tailored swim programme for pre- and post-surgical scoliosis patients under 18.

The free classes began at Belfast Swim Club in 2014 with only eight swimmers, and weekly classes started in Kildare the following year. The programme has helped over 150 young swimmers build strength and confidence as they face bracing and corrective surgeries.

The weekly classes in Cork will initially enable up to 25 swimmers to join the programme.

Scoliosis, an abnormal curve of the spine or backbone, affects about one in every three in every 1,000 children in Ireland. The condition can also affect adults.

The government has committed to cutting the average waiting time for surgery to four months by the end of 2017, in line with international best practice. At present, some children have been waiting over 18 months for surgery.

S2S 1 Conor Healy Photography Conor Healy Photography

Senan Phillips, six, has been taking the classes in Kildare for a few months. His father Jason tells the classes have had a positive impact on the family.

Senan was diagnosed with mild scoliosis after going to the doctor for back pain. In September, his curve was nine degrees. As of February, it had progressed to 13 degrees.

Senan will be x-rayed again later this year and, if the curve has progressed to over 20 degrees, he may need to wear a cast.

“If there’s no significant increase in the curve, we’ll wait another six months,” Jason explains.

Senan was pretty anxious when he heard about the cast. We reassured him we’d get a Liverpool one, and his principal and friends could sign it. He was pretty happy with that.

While Senan’s curve is still relatively minor, children and teenagers with varying degrees of spinal curvature attend the classes.

Jason says speaking to experts and other parents at the classes has been invaluable and helped put his and his wife Aishling’s minds at ease.

It’s such a lovely atmosphere. All the parents talk to each other. It’s one thing speaking on the phone or emailing, but talking face-to-face is so much easier. It has helped ease the worry. We have been able to talk to other parents about casting and other things.

S2S 2 Conor Healy Photography Conor Healy Photography

Funded by American specialist spine medical device company K2M, the weekly programme is run by a number of trained coaches and volunteers.

It gives parents and children the opportunity to talk to other families going through the same situation, as well as scoliosis experts who attend some of the sessions.

‘Going through the same journey’ 

Eimear Brown, Straight2Swimming’s programme director, said exercises at the classes are based on age and ability and “include a range of aerobic exercises and swimming techniques”.

“The main focus is increasing aerobic fitness for pre- and post-operation. The more fit they are, the easier the recovery for many patients.

Straight2Swimming provides an environment for children to meet other children who are going through the same journey. I have had parents approach me and let me know what a difference it has made to their child that they have met someone who has already been through the operation and they know that they are going to be okay.

“And it is not just the kids who get comfort from meeting someone on the same journey. I have had the same stories from parents who use the hour that their child is swimming to chat to each other and understand they are not going through this alone.”

Dr Pat Kiely, a paediatric orthopaedic surgeon at Our Lady’s Children’s Hospital Crumlin, welcomed the move to add classes in Cork. He described the programme as “the most positive single action in enhancing scoliosis patients’ capacity, allowing them to be themselves and all that they can be”.

The classes in Kildare take place in the Curragh Military Swimming Club, while the Cork classes happen in the Mardyke Arena. For more information, email

Read: ‘He’s very brave, he was in surgery for 10 hours’: Tommy Long finally gets scoliosis operation

Read: ‘Children are eating paracetamol to get through the day, afraid of ending up in a wheelchair’