Sitting tall: New spinal surgery gives hope for juvenile scoliosis

A new device for juvenile scoliosis can prevent children from needing repeated surgeries, reducing the risks of infection and adverse effects for medically fragile kids.

A new device for juvenile scoliosis can prevent children from needing repeated surgeries, reducing the risks of infection and adverse effects for medically fragile kids.

At age 8, Alex Judd has already had his share of surgical procedures. Born with a rare genetic syndrome, Alex has neurological issues as well as stomach problems. And now, during the past year, he has started to have serious issues with one of his lungs due to severe syndromic scoliosis, which is caused by his underlying genetic condition.

Scoliosis is a curvature of the spine that can happen in varying degrees. The usual way to treat Alex’s type of severe scoliosis is with repeated surgical procedures that are done as the child grows — normally every six months. However, a new device being implanted at Norton Children’s Hospital is going to change that for Alex.

“We can now insert a special rod that we can lengthen in the office noninvasively, avoiding multiple surgeries,” said John R. Dimar II, M.D., spine surgeon with Norton Leatherman Spine Center. “Using a special remote control, the magnetic rod can be extended up to 1 centimeter every four to six months. Once a child reaches age 10, 90 percent of the spine growth will have occurred and we can then do a final surgery.”

What this means for patients is reduced risks associated with surgery, such as infection, as well as spinal fusion.

“If you can prevent even one surgery and hospitalization, it makes a great difference for a child,” Dr. Dimar said. “Anesthesia subtly affects the brain, so every time you can avoid it for a child it’s a good thing. Over time there’s also cost savings.”

This particular rod, called the MAGEC (MAGnetic Expansion Control) system and manufactured by Ellipse Technologies Inc., is useful for juvenile or infantile scoliosis that compromises other areas of the body.

“For some patients with this type of scoliosis, the curvature of the spine is so severe that it can actually affect the heart or, in Alex’s case, the lungs,” Dr. Dimar said. “The earlier the curve starts, the worse it will be.”

For Alex, the MAGEC rod will hopefully hold his spine in place to prevent progression of his scoliosis. He has already had his first rod adjustment and, according to his mother, Erica, it went smoothly.

 “He had no pain or discomfort afterward,” she said. “As a mom who has had to watch her child recover from multiple surgeries, this is a Godsend.”


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