The gift of fewer (surgeries)

scoliosis MAGEC rodsIn mid-December, a few patients gathered in Boston Children’s Hospital’s Orthopedic Center to celebrate the gift of less. Eleven-year-old Abby and 7-year-olds David and Jessica were among the first patients in the U.S. to have MAGEC (MAGnetic Expansion Control) surgery, a new way to treat some types of scoliosis.

Most patients with early-onset scoliosis like Abby, David and Jessica have surgery to place rods in their spine. But it’s not a one-shot deal. An orthopedic surgeon must replace rods as the child outgrows them, meaning another operation every year or so.

MAGEC rods are different. First, they’re magnetic. Second, they’re remote controlled. And third, Boston Children’s orthopedic surgeons can periodically lengthen the rods as a child grows—and keep the child’s spine straight—without surgery.

“This technology gives us the opportunity to perform a procedure that would historically require a trip to the operating room. While the MAGEC rods cannot be used in all patients with early-onset scoliosis, in those where it can be used, it can reduce the family stress, time and risks of repeat trips to the operating room under anesthesia,” says Dr. Michael Glotzbecker, , orthopedic surgeon in Boston Children’s Orthopedic Center.

How MAGEC scoliosis rods work

After an ultrasound technician measures the patient’s spine, the surgeon uses a remote control to lengthen the rods. It makes whirring and clicking sounds for a few seconds, and then it’s over. One more ultrasound to re-measure the spine, and kids are ready to go.

“The biggest benefit is not having to have repeat surgeries. It’s a lot of stress for a child, knowing she has to go under anesthesia and recover from surgery every year,” says Abby’s mother Kelly.

“It was kind of amazing to think that I was the first to get this new improvement and have this cool new thing,” adds Abby.MAGEC surgery

And the technology is cool. “It’s really easy—just a few pictures and wait for the machine to do its job,” explains Jessica’s father Brian.

The kids and their parents had different ideas about what to do after their quick trip to Boston Children’s. One enterprising youth suggested the longer spine might mean a shopping trip for new clothes while a parent joked about party tricks and sticking refrigerator magnets to the patients’ backs. But kids, parents and doctors alike agreed that fewer surgeries are cause for celebration.

To learn more about Boston Children’s Spinal Program, click here.