On a Southwest Florida teen’s summer to-do list: Visit grandma, hang out with friends, go to beach, get curve in spine straightened.
Recovery rooms at The Children’s Hospital of Southwest Florida will see lots of teens, mostly girls, recovering from scoliosis surgeries. The surgeons from Pediatric Orthopedics of Southwest Florida, the region’s only children’s orthopedic practice, will do two cases a week during the vacation period.
The patients can get back on their feet within a day or so of the operation, but they need a few weeks before they’re ready to resume all their typical activities. Dr. John Churchill, one of the practice’s partners, said one of his recent patients was riding an ATV six weeks after the surgery.
The surgeons operate on 30 to 40 patients annually. The average age is 13 or 14.
Chelsea Wyatt, 14, of Cape Coral has known for more than a year that her day was coming. Churchill fused Wyatt’s spine last Tuesday, inserting two titanium rods along the spine with 16 screws that will hold the braces in place for the rest of Wyatt’s life. Before the surgery, Wyatt’s spine looked like a reverse “S.” The curve measured between 56 and 58 degrees, and doctors knew it was going to get worse as she aged.
“At first, I was sad,” said Wyatt of her surgery. “Then I was OK with it.”
She had no pain and the curve didn’t limit her activities, which included playing tennis and basketball. But if the curve worsened, it could compress her organs and deform her figure.
“This is preventative,” said her father, J.R. Wyatt, who stood at her bedside. “This was to keep it from getting worse. The hard thing was how do you explain to a young lady, a 14-year-old, that you have to go to the hospital to fix something that’s not broken.”
No one knows why scoliosis strikes, though it appears to run in families.
“It’s not from book bags or bad posture,” Churchill said. “It just happens.”
Most children who get it will grow normally until they reach 10 to 12 years old, and then the spine starts to curve and twist.
Ten percent of the population will have a mild curve of 10 degrees or so. They require no treatment. Doctors might try putting children with more severe curves in braces. The braces won’t correct the existing curve, but for some scoliosis victims, they will keep the curve from worsening.
Only about one in 1,000 scoliosis patients requires surgery, Churchill said. The procedure carries a one in 600 chance of paralysis, but Churchill said he and his fellow surgeons use sophisticated devices to monitor the spinal cord during surgery.
The Pediatric Orthopedics doctors have been working to enhance their treatment of the disease at The Children’s Hospital. They’ve added special surgical tables and hired specially trained nurses to help the patients recover.
A few years ago, the practice and hospital were also the first in the state to be granted FDA permission to use an expandable titanium rib for young children with spinal deformities. Young children can’t have a spinal fusion procedure like Wyatt because they’re still growing.
Parents can check their children’s spines by asking them to bend down and touch their toes. Sometimes the curve is obvious. Other tell-tale signs include a raised shoulder blade.
Chelsea Wyatt said she looks forward to her recovering and starting her freshman year in Cape Coral High School’s International Baccalaureate program. She advised other children who will have surgery this summer not to worry.
“They don’t have any reason to be nervous. Yeah, you’ll be sore, but it’s better than living your life in pain,” she said.