Health Beat

Health Beat: Braces for the spine get girl up and tumbling

DENVER - Ever since Sophie Clem can remember, she's loved to bend and bounce and flip and flop.

"I just have had quite a lot of balance, and on the bars, I just ended up getting high scores," said Sophie, 11.

But this is the first time in five months she's been back in the gym. Sophie was worried her tumbling days were numbered, having been diagnosed at age seven with scoliosis.

"It just kinda looked like a curve," said Sophie.

"We tried bracing, physical therapy, chiropractic care," said Sophie's mom, Denise Clem.

But her condition got worse. What started as a 14-degree curve was now 36 degrees.

For kids with scoliosis, the main concern for Dr. Jaren Riley, a pediatric orthopedic surgeon at Rocky Mountain Hospital for Children in Denver, is to keep them moving and maintain their range of motion.

One option is a traditional spinal fusion that would likely stop Sophie's growth, or a new experimental surgery called vertebral body tethering.

"We place these screws," Riley said, "one screw into each of these individual bones of the spine, and then between each of those screws, we place a rope, then tension that rope between the screws to make this curve straighten out."

Think of it like braces for the spine.

"So, the long side of the spine stays put, the short side keeps growing and the curve starts to straighten out," Riley explained.

Doctors saw immediate results.

"It feels like a huge step forward, quite honestly," Riley said.

"The one thing I want to get back is like handstands or cartwheels on the beam, because they're really fun to do," Sophie said.

The surgery is not FDA-approved. Risks include injury to the heart and lungs, infection, nerve damage and paralysis. Because it is new, long-term issues are not known.


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