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YOUR HEALTH: Tethering the spine

A new procedure can help scoliosis patients retain movement for sports and dance

NEW YORK CITY, N.Y. — Spinal deformities change a child's life and can end an athlete's chance to perform.

While some kids need braces to straighten the curvature of the spine more severe cases of scoliosis require surgery to fuse the spine.

It stops the progression and pain, but can limit mobility. 

Now a new procedure may allow young athletes to continue to compete and young dancers like 15-year old Alivia McCord to continue dancing.

"I was in my dance costume, and my mom noticed that I was crooked," she recalled. 

"My hips were crooked."

Doctors diagnosed Alivia with scoliosis and recommended immediate surgery to fuse her back, which would have limited her bending and twisting. 

Instead, the McCord's decided to try a non-invasive back brace, but…

"When we did the out of brace x-ray, they took her out of her brace for like four days, her curve went right back," Alivia's mother Donna remembered.

That's when the McCords sought out scoliosis specialist, Dr. Baron Lonner, Chief of Minimally Invasive Scoliosis Surgery at Mt. Sinai Hospital.

Dr. Lonner recommended a new procedure called vertebral body tethering or VBT.

"So, the benefit of tethering is we don't permanently alter the spine and we maintain flexibility and some growth for the patients," said Dr. Lonner.

Instead of opening the back, surgeons access a patient's spine through tiny holes in their side.

"What we do is place screws into the vertebral bodies, which are the building blocks of the spine."

Then surgeons maneuver a flexible cord into the back, and anchor it to the screws. 

The tethering corrects the curvature, but still allows patients almost full movement. 

Six weeks after surgery, Alivia was back to training and performing.

"I was so happy that I was just back on my dance floor, and I could just dance again."

If this story has impacted your life or prompted you or someone you know to seek or change treatments, please let us know by contacting Jim Mertens at jim.mertens@wqad.com or Marjorie Bekaert Thomas at mthomas@ivanhoe.com.