Drs. Redmond Burke and Billy Cohn were friends and colleagues before they signed on to do ABC's new show "Miracle Workers," a descendant of the tearjerker reality series "Extreme Home Makeover."
The doctors use their expertise combined with the latest technology to help people with debilitating medical conditions.
On the series premiere, the Miracle Workers used stem cells from a living donor and a cadaver to restore a blind man's sight. They also operated on a woman's back, helping her to walk again. In the second episode, which airs tonight, they will treat Adrian Keller, a 4-year-old boy with extreme scoliosis, and Emily Bresler, a 19-year-old girl with severe Tourette's syndrome.
There were amazing results for Adrian, whose spine was so curved from his condition that it made it difficult for him to live like a normal little boy. After a new kind of surgery, Adrian grew four inches.
"His father said that Adrian went into surgery looking like a question mark and came out as an exclamation point," Burke said.
Burke, chief of pediatric cardiovascular surgery at The Congenital Heart Institute at Miami Children's Hospital and Arnold Palmer Hospital in Florida, said that the surgery had straightened Adrian's curved spine and restored proper alignment, but more importantly, prevented his left lung from getting crushed by his body.
"One of the results of the deformity was to cramp his entire left side to the point where five of Adrian's ribs had become fused together and were exerting pressure on his lung," Burke said. "Without treatment, the deformity would have gotten worse and ultimately destroyed the lung, killing Adrian."
Burke said the surgery had been done with high-tech expanding rods that had been recently approved by the FDA. It is very risky to operate on the spinal cord and, at one point during the surgery, the doctor feared the boy was paralyzed. The only way to make sure he could still move was to wake him up and ask him to move his toes, even though the incision was still open and he was experiencing terrible pain.
"I am just in awe of that doctor," Burke said. "He's a parent, too, and he knows that the worst nightmare for Adrian's parents is that their son would come out of that operation room not being able to walk or move for the rest of his life."
For Emily Bresler, the doctors had a computer implanted in her brain to regulate the electrical currents that were thrown out of whack by Tourette's syndrome. She was the 10th person to ever have the procedure, which is considered cutting edge.
It's the same kind of procedure that Jeff Matovic underwent in 2004. When no treatment seemed to work, he became the first Tourette's patient to undergo an experimental surgery called deep brain stimulation where doctors place electrodes in his brain. The surgery was a success and transformed Matovic's life.
"There is hope," he said. "The results that I've seen, the, the feelings that I felt, they're out there for other people, too."
Bresler hopes that this dramatic procedure changes her life, too.
"It's going to be so great because I can actually live for real now, and I'm so looking forward to it," she said.
Cohn said that, although this kind of surgery is not his area of expertise, he tries to act as a patient advocate and assist other physicians during the operation. He said the point of the show was to restore hope to the hopeless.
"The point is that patients should remain optimistic and keep their hope alive," he said. "Medicine is changing all the time."
Cohn and Burke said that they had technology at their disposal that was unheard of just a decade or two ago. The show helps people stay informed about the newest medical breakthroughs that can help people who were once thought to be incurable.
"Unrealistic expectations is what drives research," Burke said. "We hope they get the message, keep fighting."
The show, Burke said, is an extension of why he became a doctor in the first place.
"I went into medicine to change people's lives, and this show is part of that, I think," he said. "There's a cool quote from Mother Teresa about how we may not be able to do one great thing, but we can do a million little things with love, and that's what doctors do every day."