Amelia Fulbright was trying out for the track team when she got a funny reaction from school officials.
“They said I was limping, but I wasn’t limping,” said the 12-year-old from Thomson. But she was favoring her right side and when she went to the doctor, they discovered a curve in her spine from early onset scoliosis that would get worse over the next year or so. Fortunately for Amelia, there was a new therapy that was about to become available at Doctors Hospital of Augusta.
She is the first at Doctors, and her surgeon said she is the first in Georgia outside of Atlanta, to receive a new kind of implanted rod to help straighten her spine. Called the MAGEC system, once implanted, the dual rods can be expanded by means of a powerful magnet that initiate magnets that turn and lengthen it by telescoping out one to two centimeters at a time.
It is painless for the patient, takes 15-20 minutes and can be done in the office, and can be done every two months, said orthopedic surgeon Justin Bundy, who performed the procedure on Amelia last week. With traditional growth rod surgery, the rods require a surgical procedure every six months where the surgeon has to go in and lengthen them, he said.
“Every six months, the child would have to come back and have that surgery, be exposed to anesthesia, be exposed to infection, be exposed to surgery, which is always scary for children,” Bundy said.
Another advantage might be cost-savings, he said. A child could undergo eight to 10 surgeries to adjust the traditional rods until the growth period is over, with a cost of perhaps $5,000 to $10,000 per procedure, versus the single magnetic rod procedure at a cost of perhaps $15,000 to $20,000, Bundy said.
“To me the biggest advantage is the less invasive technology for a child’s growth,” he said. “These things are not cheap, but neither is surgery every six months, or an infection or a complication from anesthesia.”
Having done a different kind of expandable rod surgery, Bundy said he knows those are serious concerns.
“I can tell you the wound infections are real, the complications from anesthesia are real,” he said and a reason he did not offer them at Doctors.
There are some limitations to who can receive the new system. It is only for scoliosis of at least a 45-degree curve and for early onset scoliosis, those who are still growing under age 14, Bundy said.
As with traditional growth rod surgeries, the curve is fixed at the top and bottom through small incisions, and rods are tunneled up on either side of the spine, and secured with screws at the top and bottom. In Amelia’s case, the magnetic parts of the rods are set at different heights so Bundy can adjust them individually.
“We’ll grow that a little more,” he said, looking at a scan of the rods in Amelia’s back and indicating the one on the right.
As with traditional rods, once Amelia stops growing they will be removed and she will get spinal fusion therapy to permanently prevent her spine from curving any further. But Bundy said he believes that won’t be for a while.
“She has a lot of growth left, probably two to three years,” he said. And without the new system, “she would be facing probably five surgeries otherwise,” Bundy said.
Straightening her spine has made her taller, at least two centimeters, although Amelia insists she was told it was three inches. Bundy thinks she could grow another six to eight inches. That would mean she would tower over her mother, Marinda, and her grandmother, Brenda Drake, who was pleasantly surprised by the new height.
“I kind of feel taller and I kind of don’t feel taller,” Amelia said, grimly sitting up in a chair in her hospital room despite the pain. “It’s hard to tell.”
“We’re going to have to buy all flat shoes for you,” her mother teased. “You’re going to be a tall girl.”
Reach Tom Corwin at (706) 823-3213 or firstname.lastname@example.org