SONIA Shah was just 13 years old when she started to develop scoliosis. She had been playing sport at a youth club since she was seven, but when she started getting out of breath easily and noticed her ribs had rotated out of place, she knew something was badly wrong.
Her mother, Miti Shah, said: "We had never heard of scoliosis before, so we had no clue what it was.
"We took her to our GP in April last year and she was diagnosed with the condition, but were told it was mild."
The Watford Grammar School pupil, of Gladsdale Drive, Northwood Hills, said: "After I was diagnosed I cut down on sports because there was no point continuing if I was going to get out of breath so easily.
"It was annoying that I had to stop because I had to sit out in my PE classes and at the youth club. I was then told the condition had got more serious, and in November last year the doctors said I needed an operation."
The operation is an incredibly risky procedure which involves metal rods being inserted either side of the spine before the spine is fused solid.
Sonia's father, Mehul Shah, said: "I asked the surgeon if there was an alternative and he said there wasn't. He said if she didn't have the surgery it would keep getting worse and she might not be able to have children and could even end up in a wheelchair."
But Mrs Shah said: "Both my husband and myself do yoga so we thought there must be other treatments.
"When we got home that day we went on the internet and started looking for an alternative and that's how we found the clinic in Suffolk."
The clinic, Scoliosis SOS, was founded and is run by Erika Maude, who has scoliosis herself.
It opened 20 months ago and has brought relief to hundreds of people. Last month a branch opened in London.
Sonia, a former pupil of Harlyn Primary School in Tolcarne Drive, Northwood Hills, said: "We went for a consultation and they showed me pictures of the exercises they do and of people who had scoliosis before and after treatment. We could see a big change in their posture."
The Shahs decided Sonia should do a four-week course at the clinic, which started at the end of last December.
Sonia said: "I was scared at first because I had no idea what to expect, but by the end of the first week I was completely fine about it and could already feel a difference.
"It was tiring, though, because I had to do the exercises from 10am to 5pm, Monday to Friday, but the before and after pictures show a huge difference.
"The treatment can only straighten out the spine to a certain degree and they made it clear from the start that I would have the condition for the rest of my life, but it worked.
"I still have to do the exercises for 45 minutes a day and I get out of breath, but not as much, and I can play sports again.
"I used to be self conscious about my ribs sticking out, but they're a lot less noticeable now and getting back into sport was really good."
But treatment isn't cheap - the cost of the four-week course plus accommodation was £3,250, and the three-monthly check ups are £100 each.
Mrs Shah added: "Although it costs us more, the surgery would have cost the NHS a lot more. We applied to Hillingdon PCT for funding but we didn't get it, so we had to go private."
Mr Shah said: "The clinic said people in the UK aren't familiar with the treatment and that is why the surgeon didn't recommend it. But thanks to them, Sonia has the chance to live a normal life."
Call Scoliosis SOS on 01394 389670 or go to www.scoliosissos.com