New Procedure for Scoliosis Leaves No Scars

ByABC News via logo
December 22, 2002, 8:36 PM

Dec. 23 -- Today, 13-year-old Tennisha Malone is standing straight and tall as she puts the finishing touches on her Christmas tree but that hasn't always been the case.

During a routine physical, her pediatrician had turned up a major deformity: Tennisha had scoliosis, joining the ranks of 6 million people who have varying degrees of curvature in their back. An X-ray showed that there was an 82-degree curve in her spine.

Instead of growing upward, her spine was curving outward, looking more like a "C" than a straight line. Her ribs began to protrude from the side of her body a frightening and embarrassing condition for any child.

Almost 4 percent of children have scoliosis, though not all cases involve enough of a curve in the spine to require treatment. In severe cases, surgery is required.

Scar-Filled Past Gone

In the past, scoliosis surgery often left patients, more often girls than boys, with very large scars, but that isn't the case anymore.

A cutting-edge technique is available to children at a handful of hospitals across the country, including the A.I. Dupont Hospital for Children in Wilmington, Del., home to the nation's largest pediatric orthopedic center.

This new procedure, called video-assisted thoracoscopic anterior spine fusion, requires four incisions between the ribs, each about a half- inch long. Guided by images transmitted from a camera inside the body, doctors remove some of the flexible tissue between the bones in the spine. Then a steel rod is inserted, along with pins and pieces of bone to secure the remaining bones.

Tennisha is one of those who underwent the new surgery at A.I. Dupont. The teen said she approached the prospect of surgery with some trepidation.

"When they told me I was going to have surgery for scoliosis I felt nervous and scared because of the thought of them cutting me open and putting something in my back," she said.

Active After Two Months

Dr. Suken Shah, a pediatric orthopedic surgeon at A.I. Dupont Hospital for Children, said that the surgery has numerous benefits.