Teenager crippled by scoliosis felt like the hunchback of notre dame but now she’s standing tall and hitting the catwalk

A teenage girl who suffered from crippling spinal disorder scoliosis felt like the hunchback of Notre Dame, and spent years hiding her beautiful figure away under baggy clothes – but now after a life-saving operation she is pursuing her modelling dream.

Stunning Tamara Sharpe, 18, from Chelmsford, Essex, dreamed of being a dancer when she was younger after starting ballet at just three years old.

A modelling image of Tamara

A modelling image of Tamara

Her dreams were dashed when she was diagnosed with scoliosis  a crippling disease resulting in abnormal twisting of the spine.

But now, after years of agonizing pain, the gorgeous teen is able to stand up tall and strut down the catwalk like a pro.

Tamara’s condition was first picked up when she was 13 by a dance teacher, who noticed one side of her back was higher than the other.

She said: “Really, dancing saved my life. After my teacher pointed out the problem my mum took me to the doctor, and I was diagnosed with scoliosis.

“It can look really horrible – you get one shoulder higher than the other, one hip higher the other, and parts of your back stick out.

“It’s not nice to look at, it’s not pretty.

Tamara shortly after her operation (L) and Tamara pre-op (R)

Tamara shortly after her operation (L) and Tamara pre-op (R)

“I did actually call myself the hunchback of Notre Dame, because that’s how it felt when I looked in the mirror.”

By the time she had an operation at 16, the curvature in Tamara’s spine was so severe it bent at a 65 degree angle  and if it had been left much longer, she could have ended up paralysed.

She said: “When I first found out I was told the curve on my spine was 30 degrees, but I had to wait until I was 16 to have an operation as it depends on how you grow.

“It usually comes around in teenage years, brought on by hormone changes. I first noticed I had a problem with my hips when I was in ballet class doing kicks  they started clicking as I moved.

“I went to the physio and he found my feet were turning in as well.

“It was very painful, it affected me really badly. My confidence was hit rock bottom.

“I was very self conscious, everyday things like shopping were horrible because nothing would fit right.

“It was very frustrating, I would get very upset. I would just think to myself ‘why am I not like other girls?'”

Tamara strutting her stuff while modelling

Tamara strutting her stuff while modelling

As a result of the scoliosis, Tamara was also crippled by shyness as she tried to hide her illness from her friends.

She said: “When I found out I didn’t tell anyone and I tried really hard to hide it, I was embarrassed and ashamed of my image.

“Being in a performing arts school and doing a lot of ballet, you wear a lot of tight clothing and I didn’t want people to stare at me.

“I would wear baggy clothing to hide myself away, and when teachers told me to take it off I would stand at the back, and hope that no one noticed me.

“Teachers were very supportive when they knew what was wrong with me, but there wasn’t a lot they could do.

“Since I’ve had the operation my life has changed dramatically, my confidence has improved drastically.

“I’m hardly in any pain at all now, the only problem I have is restrictions in day-to-day life.

“Things like putting on my shoes can be difficult, but I deal with it. I can’t bend that well and my flexibility isn’t great, and I have spina bifida in my bottom two discs so I still have to be careful.

“It can be a problem sometimes, but my life is so much better  there’s no curve at all now, my back is completely straight.”

Tamara was diagnosed with idiopathic scoliosis, which mean the cause of her scoliosis is unknown – around eight out of 10 cases of scoliosis are idiopathic.

In Tamara’s case, her spine was fused from T2 to L3 – which means all but two of her vertebrae had fused together.

Painful looking scar

Painful looking scar

She had two operations  the first in September 2013 to remove ribs and deflate her left lung to make room, and the second to straighten her spine on October 1 2013.

Now Tamara’s spine is straight, thanks to two rods and screws in her back – meaning it will stay straight, but she can’t bend.

Despite suffering excruciating pain every day before the operation, Tamara completed her GCSEs at Italia Conti theatre school in London where she achieved A to C grades.

She was then finally able to have an operation to straighten out her back at the National Orthopaedic Hospital in Portland Street, London.

She said: “It was very scary, I had to re-learn every basic skill  how to eat, how to walk.

“I wore a back brace for four months and had to sleep in a corset every night, which isn’t ideal when you’re 16!

“I was surprised at how supportive everyone was – I tried for so long to hide it, I didn’t expect the reaction I got when I told my college friends after the operation.

“They skyped me nearly every day in hospital, and when I went back to college they would carry my bags for me.

“Having the operation was the best thing to happen to me  before my flexibility was awful, my confidence was terrible, and I was in a lot of pain all the time, constantly on pain killers.

“It was a small price to pay – I’m just glad I’m not in constant pain anymore.

Tamara's X-rays and back pre-op

Tamara’s X-rays and back pre-op

“In some ways dancing helped, because it made me stronger and built my muscles  but in the end it was too much, it wasn’t good for my back and I was in constant pain.

“Now, I’ve dropped the dancing side of things to focus more on acting and modelling.”

Since singing up with agency Models of Diversity, Tamara’s confidence has soared with the help of founder Angel Sinclair.

Models of Diversity campaign for a wider range of models to be used in the fashion industry.

Tamara said: “Angel’s so lovely and so supportive, I love what she does  it’s such a great campaign.

“It’s the first proper modelling job I’ve done and it’s made me realise I’d really love it give it a go properly, alongside acting.

“It can be tough being a disabled model, but we want to show that anyone can be a model  we can do whatever ‘able-bodied’ people can do.

“There’s more to me than a disability.”

The aspiring actress, who has just finished her A Levels at Writtle College in Chelmsford, is now hoping to get some more work off the back of her successful Models of Diversity catwalk show  and she has already been snapped up by another agency.

She said: “I still do a bit of dancing, but my career is heading down the path of acting and modelling.

“In some ways scoliosis has actually helped my acting – I love doing period dramas and they always have excellent postures, which is great for me.

“I’m up for anything though and I won’t let it hold me back.”