Catching up with Abby

scoliosisWhen you look Abby DiCocco, a 13-year-old from Clifton Park, N.Y, it’s hard to believe that the rising eighth grader, avid swimmer and budding triathlete ever had any problems with her spine.

Abby was diagnosed with scoliosis when she was in first grade and had surgery to remove a Chiari malformation, an abnormal meeting between the brain and spinal cord, at Boston Children’s Hospital.

One year after that surgery, Abby’s orthopedic surgeon Dr. John Emans, director of the Boston Children’s Spinal Program, prescribed a brace to treat her scoliosis. However, despite everyone’s best efforts, Abby’s scoliosis progressed as she grew, and her curve reached 65 degrees by age 11.

That’s when Emans suggested a new option — MAGEC surgery. Remote-controlled magnetic rods are surgically implanted into the spine and periodically lengthened to treat early-onset scoliosis. Abby was the first at Boston Children’s to receive this surgery, which reduced her curve from 65 to 10 degrees.

That was two years ago.

After Abby’s scoliosis surgeryscoliosis swimmer

Scoliosis surgery has made a big difference for Abby, giving her the freedom to pursue sports.

Before her surgery, Abby was swimming crooked and more slowly than her peers. Completing a triathlon, let alone placing second, was out of the question. However, her drive and passion led her to continue to swim and begin competing in triathlons.

Through MAGEC and the lengthening process of these rods, Abby can avoid the frequent surgeries — which can be twice a year for 12 years for some patients — otherwise needed to replace the rods as she outgrows them. She, along with the other 26 Boston Children’s patients treated with MAGEC surgery, now needs only to undergo the noninvasive, quick process of lengthening the rods every few months. The visit lasts about 15 minutes, says Abby’s mother Kelly.

scoliosis x-ray
Abby’s EOS X-ray shows the MAGEC rods used to treat her scoliosis.

Abby’s appointments begin in X-ray. Boston Children’s uses an EOS X-ray system for patients with scoliosis. This new technology images the entire spine, which means two X-rays do not need to be stitched together. Children are exposed to much less radiation, and the images are clearer.

Abby goes to physical therapy for her remaining posture issues, but scoliosis no longer inhibits her from leading the active lifestyle that she so loves.

Abby ran, swam and biked in her first triathlon in May and nabbed second place at her most recent.

“When she finished her triathlon, she was so proud of herself,” says Kelly. “She was beaming.”

Abby hopes to continuing competing in triathlons and dreams of running (and winning) the IRONMAN Triathlon.

Abby and her mother expect that the MAGEC rods will continue to be lengthened for another year or two before Abby’s final surgery and spinal fusion that will mark the end of her scoliosis treatment.

Learn more about our Spinal Program.