Thursday, 19 March 2015

Big relief for young scoliosis patients

Technique used at NUH does away with need for multiple invasive surgery
By Linette Lai, The Straits Times, 18 Mar 2015

YOUNG scoliosis patients usually have to undergo surgery twice a year to adjust the rods that are keeping their curved spines straight.

But the National University Hospital (NUH) has done away with the need for that.

It has started to implant rods that can be adjusted with magnets in a matter of seconds, saving these patients the pain of a 11/2 hour operation.

"Each time you do (conventional surgery), you worry about the risk of infection, the pain, the time lost, the anxiety for patients and their parents," said Associate Professor Gabriel Liu, who carried out Singapore's first such procedure last year.

Scoliosis is a condition where the spine curves sideways. Although it may not cause pain, it can affect lung function.

Those with a curve of 45 degrees or more usually require surgery, said Prof Liu, who is deputy head of the University Spine Centre.

The centre's specialists see an average of 700 children for scoliosis every year.

For those who require surgery, the rods in their backs must be periodically lengthened to accommodate their growing spines.

A seven-year-old, for example, may have to undergo as many as eight spinal operations until he reaches adolescence and is ready for the final surgery to fuse his adult spine in place.

Implanting the rod and each subsequent adjustment used to involve making a long cut down from the top of a patient's spine.

But the new technique at NUH is less invasive. The magnetically controlled rods are put in via smaller incisions, and subsequent adjustments can be carried out in the doctor's clinic.

"This method reduces the complications of multiple repeated surgery," Prof Liu said.

Adjustments can also be made more frequently, he added, which could help the spine to grow better.

The first person to undergo this new surgery is 12-year-old Joycelyn Ng.

Since going under the knife nine months ago, she has been coming back for adjustments of a few millimetres each time at three-month intervals.

Her mother, Madam Esther Chow, said she had concerns over how new the procedure was, but also wanted to save her daughter the pain of frequent operations.

"Before it, her back would hurt," said the 43-year-old housewife. "We are very comforted now."

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