Child Health Seth Stratton | 10 months ago

Magnets Make It Easier to Grow With Scoliosis

For kids with curved spines, a remote-controlled magnetic rod is making childhoods full of back surgeries a thing of the past.

Seven-year-old Charlie Toney loves dancing and gymnastics. But for many years, her curved spine took all the fun out of that kind of activity. “She was diagnosed with scoliosis when she was only 3 years old,” says her mom, Courtney. “She lived in a back brace for years.” Despite the brace, X-rays showed the curve in Charlie’s spine was only getting worse. It seemed that a childhood full of spinal surgeries was in her future. Traditionally, doctors treat scoliosis by implanting rods in a child’s spine to keep it from curving further. As the child grows, the rods must be frequently replaced with longer ones. For Charlie and her family, the prospect of multiple surgeries was daunting. They had hope, though, when they learned that doctors at Levine Children’s Hospital offered a new procedure – one that could help Charlie avoid the multiple surgeries young scoliosis patients often face. The new method? A spinal rod controlled by magnets. With this technique, a rod is attached to the child’s spine in an initial operation. But instead of the rod lasting only until the child outgrows it, this one can be lengthened regularly via remote control – eliminating the need for additional surgeries. “It replaces going back every three to six months for surgery,” says pediatric orthopedic surgeon Kelly VanderHave, MD, Charlie’s doctor at Levine Children’s Hospital. Instead, the rod lengthening happens during a short outpatient visit. “No more repeated operations. And less pain and anxiety for the kids.” In June, Charlie became one of the first patients at Levine Children’s Hospital to get the new magnetic rod. Within days, she was back home. Within weeks, she’d gained three inches in height. And right away, she was back to dancing and tumbling. “She’s already doing cartwheels and backflips!” Courtney says. Dr. VanderHave says the magnetic rod is quickly becoming her go-to treatment for young patients with severe scoliosis. Another such patient who recently got it: 7-year-old Jacob Shipwash, who underwent six rod-lengthening operations in two years before switching to the magnetic rod. “All those surgeries were heart wrenching,” says his mom, Heather. “He would cry every time.” But at his most-recent lengthening surgery, Dr. VanderHave told the family about the new magnetic method. They jumped at the opportunity, and in June, Jake joined Charlie as one of the first Levine Children’s Hospital patients to get the new rod. When it came time to lengthen the rod a few months later, what would have been surgery for Jake was instead a quick, simple visit to the doctor. “All he has known is surgery, but it was completely different this time,” says Heather. “After they did the procedure, he said, ‘Is that all?’” For both kids, the new technology has clearly been a game changer. While they and other patients still need a final surgery to fuse their spine into proper position once they’re fully grown, the magnetic rod makes for a much easier road getting there. Jake’s been able to get back to being a kid, enjoying everything from jumping on the trampoline to roughhousing with his sisters. Courtney says it’s the same for Charlie. “She’s just so happy now,” her mom says. “She always felt different from other kids. Now she loves to tell people she has a brand-new back.” [gallery type="slideshow" size="full" ids="4594,4595,4596,4597"]