Stories about: Spinal Program

A bond between sisters made stronger by scoliosis

April and Mary Miller sit outside Boston Children's Hospital where they were treated for scoliosis.

Growing up, sisters will often share many things — and not always willingly. But it’s not often they will end up sharing the same condition, one that keeps them stuck in a rigid and uncomfortable back brace for most of the day. But then again, April and Mary Miller are not your average sisters.

The Miller sisters were both diagnosed with idiopathic scoliosis at the end of their fifth grade years. April, the oldest sister, was diagnosed in 2011, while younger sister Mary’s diagnosis came in 2013.

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Experiencing how spinal fusion treats scoliosis before surgery day

Scoliosis patients and families look on as a nurse presents inside a simulation hospital room
The Spinal Program at Boston Children’s Orthopedic Center has partnered with the Simulator Program to offer a unique simulation experience to patients who will undergo surgical treatment for scoliosis, a procedure called spinal fusion, this summer.

“In my experience, patients do better when they are well prepared for surgery,” says Dr. Michael Glotzbecker, a pediatric spine specialist and surgeon at Boston Children’s Hospital, who performs dozens of spinal fusion surgeries each year to treat children with scoliosis.

That’s why Glotzbecker teamed up with Brianna O’Connell, a child life specialist and program lead of simulation programs for patients and caregivers at the Boston Children’s SIMPeds Simulator Program, to create an immersive day for patients and their families to experience spinal fusion well ahead of surgery day.

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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.

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Meghan’s advice: 6 ways to shine after scoliosis surgery

scoliosis-sunflowersMeet Meghan Dwyer ­— a typical busy high school student who loves field hockey, Disney movies and dance. Like thousands of other Massachusetts middle and high school students, Meghan participated in regular well-child and school screenings for scoliosis. Everything checked out fine.

Early in Meghan’s sophomore year; however, her mother Tricia, a nurse, noticed her daughter’s back appeared a bit crooked. She made an appointment with Dr. Dan Hedequist, an orthopedic surgeon in the Boston Children’s Hospital Spinal Program. “We didn’t think the curve was too bad and were shocked to find out it had progressed to 50 degrees,” recalls Tricia.

With a 50-degree curve, Meghan needed spinal fusion surgery. Less than 1 percent of girls with scoliosis have curves that require surgery, says Hedequist.

The Dwyers scheduled Meghan’s surgery for June 15, 2015, shortly before the end of her sophomore year.

Nearly one year after her surgery, Meghan is brimming with advice for other teens.

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