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Two California Children Get Innovative Device To Treat Spinal Problems

Aired 5/9/13 on KPBS News.

Two California children have been implanted with a magnetic device that promises to revolutionize the way curvature of the spine is treated in young people.

— Two California children have become the first in the nation to receive an innovative treatment for curvature of the spine.

Flickr / NeckAndBack - Donald Corenman

One in 10,000 children develop what's called early onset scoliosis.

The treatment involves implanting expandable magnetic rods in the body. The surgeries took place at Rady Children’s Hospital this week.

About one in 10,000 kids develop what’s called early onset scoliosis.

Standard treatment for this severe curvature of the spine includes a plaster body cast and installing rods in a child’s back.

The rods have to be adjusted every few months, which means multiple surgeries.

Orthopedic surgeon Gregory Mundis, Jr. said current treatments can be extremely traumatic.

"We’ve actually done some studies looking at the affects of repetitive anesthesia on children," Dr. Mundis, Jr., explained. "You know, lots of these kids will have eight, nine, 10, sometimes 14 lengthenings over the course of their treatment. That’s a big deal."

Now, there’s a new treatment that involves attaching expandable magnetic rods to both sides of the spine.

The rods are adjusted using a remote control device in a doctor’s office. Mundis, Jr. said that eliminates the need for frequent surgeries.

"In clinic, ... we stick a magnet on the outside of the skin. We’re able to literally wind up, and it tells us on the screen of this magnet, how far we’re actually expanding the device," he said.

The device comes from Ellipse Technologies in Irvine.

Company President Ed Roschak explained that it’s used in a number of countries overseas, but not approved by the FDA for use in the U.S. The agency granted a compassionate use exemption so that two children could get them implanted at Rady Children’s Hospital this week.

"Well, we thought it was a perfect match for our technology. The needs of the patients are severe. They have a severe disease. The treatment is severe. We have a technology that can really change that, change the whole experience for that child, as well as the family, and it was a great way for us to demonstrate that our technology actually works," Roschak said.

More than 300 children have the devices worldwide. FDA approval is pending.

Two boys, ages 9 years old and 5 years old, received the implants at Rady’s on Tuesday.

Rachel Thomas is the 5 year old’s mom. She didn’t want her son, Tommy, to go through the standard treatment.

"It wasn’t an option for me," the Stockton resident said. "There was no way that I was going to put my tiny body, is what I call him, through that type of invasive surgery every six months. That’s why I knew I needed to seek out alternatives."

When Thomas made the arrangements for Tommy to get the new device, she told him that he’d feel a lot better after he had the surgery.

"After he recovered, that he wouldn’t have to wear his cast anymore, he wouldn’t have to wear a brace anymore, he would get to swim when he wants to swim, and take baths when he want to take baths, and just get to start kindergarten in August like a five-year-old should, and not have to revolve his life around surgery," Thomas said.

Thomas said her son handled the surgery well.

"He’s doing good. Yeah, he’s doing really good. They were really great about keeping his pain under control from the beginning, and he’s great," she said. "This morning he asked if he got his new back, and we told him 'yeah,' and he asked for a popsicle."

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