WESTCHESTER COUNTY, NEW YORK— A parent, a family member, a school nurse, a coach or even a friend notices a subtle change in the posture of an adolescent boy or girl. The child is taken to his or her pediatrician who, after an examination, suspects the child might be exhibiting signs of early stage scoliosis, also known as curvature of the spine. A referral to a spine specialist confirms the diagnosis: adolescent idiopathic scoliosis.
According to Westchester orthopaedic surgeon and spine specialist John Galeno, MD, the real pernicious element of scoliosis rests with its eventual negative and potentially serious impacts on the individual’s cardiopulmonary health. Left untreated, scoliosis can do real damage to the heart and lungs, and could prove fatal years down the line. For that reason, Dr. Galeno stresses, it’s critical that young scoliosis patients be examined, diagnosed and treated at the earliest signs of the disorder.
“With scoliosis in early adolescence, patients are first treated with a brace,” Dr. Galeno explains. “The brace is fitted to help mold the spine into its natural position. The rate of curvature of the spine is carefully monitored; if the brace helps straighten the spine, its use is continued. Should the brace fail to ameliorate the condition, the next logical step is surgery when it reaches a certain degree of severity.
“Advances in surgery for scoliosis have been remarkable over the years,” Dr. Galeno says. “In the operating room it’s the instrumentation to correct the deformity that has seen advancements,” he says. “Now we have the ability to correct the deformity not just on one plane, but on more than one plane in one procedure with screw and rod placement. We use instrumentation to force the spine to go into a more normal position; that way we are able to maintain a natural curve of the spine. The use of robotics is slowly but surely making its way into treatment in some operating suites.”
Dr. Galeno recalls one young patient who came to see him for a follow-up exam a few years after her procedure to correct idiopathic scoliosis. Not only had she fully recovered, but she demonstrated her gymnastic agility by completely bending over backwards and placing her palms flat on the floor — a challenging feat for even the most dexterous athlete. “That was pretty remarkable, and impressive,” Dr. Galeno recalls. “It spelled a remarkable transformation for a young patient who, just a few years earlier, was facing the daunting challenges of adolescent scoliosis. Surgery not only improved her life, but it restored her sense of self.”
“Early intervention is extremely important,” Dr. Galeno urges. “The sooner we diagnose and treat a young person, the better the chances for a full recovery.”