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Girls with scoliosis gather on LI for 2nd International Convention

Alexa Castelli, a member of the Long Island

Alexa Castelli, a member of the Long Island Curvy Girls, participates in the fashion show. (Credit: Kathleen Forelli/Kathleen Studios)

More than 100 girls with scoliosis from 30 states, Canada and England were on Long Island this week for the Second International Curvy Girls Convention.

From Sunday to Tuesday, the girls and 120 parents or guardians gathered at the Hyatt Regency hotel in Hauppauge. Events included an empowering fashion show and dinner, where 55 of the girls modeled clothing that complemented the braces they must wear to try to straighten their spines or showed off post-spinal surgery outfits.

Elisabeth Harkins, 15, of South Carolina, for instance, modeled a Bohemian-style lace dress that she made herself, with matching shoes, topped by a denim jacket with “Curvy Girls, We’ve Got Your Back” embroidered on the back.

Sisters Maria and Sandra Santana, 23 and 12 respectively, came from Modesto, California, for the convention. “I’m looking for the motivational support, that sisterhood,” the elder Santana said. “That’s exactly what this is.”

Joe O’Brien, president of the National Scoliosis Foundation, came from Boston. “It’s fabulous,” he said of the convention. “It’s a great opportunity for education and camaraderie for the girls.”

Scoliosis is a condition that causes the spine to grow curved instead of straight. Tween and teen girls who have scoliosis wear braces for 16 to 23 hours a day for several years during middle and high school. The appliance is meant to stop their curve from advancing as they grow, but sometimes even when they comply with the edict they still wind up needing spinal surgery. The condition is far more prevalent in girls than boys.

The first Curvy Girls support group was started by Leah Stoltz of Smithtown when she was 13 and felt as though she was the only girl going through a scoliosis prognosis. In 2009, when she was a senior at Smithtown High School West, Stoltz was honored by TV show host Nick Cannon in Nickelodeon’s first “TeenNick HALO Awards," a nationally televised program recognizing teens who are “helping and leading others.” The publicity generated from the broadcast spurred other girls with scoliosis to contact Leah, asking how they could start local support groups.

In 2012, the Curvy Girls held the first international convention, also in Hauppauge, and more than 150 girls and guardians attended. Last year, the Long Island group also published a book, called "Straight Talk With the Curvy Girls: Scoliosis -- Brace Yourself for What You Need to Know," which was researched, compiled, edited and published by Theresa E. Mulvaney of Mount Sinai and Leah's mother, social worker Robin Stoltz of Smithtown.

Leah Stoltz was one of the masters of ceremony at the fashion show and dinner; she recently graduated from American University in Washington, D.C., and will be starting a job at advertising firm Olgivy & Mather in Manhattan. Looking around the ballroom at the more than 300 people at the dinner, Stoltz called the way the Curvy Girls has grown “absolutely crazy.” Says Stoltz: “It’s beyond my wildest dreams.”

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