BALTIMORE (WJZ)– A child having to undergo any type of surgery is traumatic. For children with early onset scoliosis, it used to require a surgery every six months to straighten their spine.
Garrett King was just 7 years old when he came down low grade fever on Fourth of July in 2015. Within hours, Garrett was rushed to Johns Hopkins where he slipped into a month-long coma.
As a result of his illness, he developed scoliosis, a curvature of the spine and the most common spinal deformity in school-age children.
“At that point his body was curve,” said Garrett’s father Chuck King. “It was actually pushing his left hip out of socket.”
Approximately 3 million childhood cases are diagnosed in the U.S. each year, with 29,000 scoliosis surgeries performed annually.
Treatment used to require metal rods be placed in a child’s back to straighten their spine, but now, at just 10 years old, Garrett is still growing and that would have required multiple surgeries to keep up with his body.
New technology being used by Johns Hopkins orthopedic surgeon, Dr. Paul Sponseller, is changing the way early onset scoliosis is treated.
“This technology allows growth to happen and even to be driven without repeated surgery,” Dr. Sponseller said. “This has been a really cool, eye-opening, game-changing, transformative advance in care of children with young growing spine disorders.”
In February, Dr. Sponseller inserted titanium rods into Garrett’s spine. The rods are able to stretch and expand internally. Instead of having multiple surgeries, Garrett comes every few months to Johns Hopkins, for a “distraction” where Dr. Sponseller uses a locator to find the magnets.
A special external remote controller activates tiny magnetic motors in the rod, and stretches Garrett’s spine by about 5 millimeters.
“They go ahead and adjust his rods, lengthen the rods as needed and we’re in and out of here within 15 to 20 minutes,” Chuck said.
Garrett’s spine curvature is already improving and he’ll continue to have magnetic lengthening until he stops growing.
“Personality wise, he’s still the same person, it’s just the physical aspect of it,” Chuck said.
Dr. Sponseller performs about 150 scoliosis surgeries every year.