Robotic Tool for Scoliosis Surgery

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Scoliosis is the abnormal curvature of the spine, commonly found in children.  At Geisinger Medical Center near Danville, doctors are using a robotic tool to make scoliosis surgery safer and more precise.

Madison Shaffer is a typical almost-13-year-old, a 7th grader at Central Columbia Middle School who likes hanging out with her family and friends.  But Madison says two years ago, she didn't feel so typical.  She was often in pain.

 "At school when I'd be sitting up too long my back would really hurt, my shoulders would start to hurt," said Madison.

Her mom Katie took the family to a chiropractor- initially to treat Madison's sister- and was shocked to hear that it was Madison who had scoliosis, a condition characterized by abnormal curvature of the spine.  It doesn't always require surgery, but Madison's case turned out to be moderate-to-severe.
"I was like, what?  My 10-year-old needs back surgery?" her mom told us.

A year later, in the spring of 2013, the family decided it was time. 
"It not only twists and you see a C or an S shaped curve, but it twists like a spiral staircase," said Dr. Meagan Fernandez, a pediatric orthopaedic surgeon with Geisinger Health System.

She invited us to an operating room to show us the tool she used during Madison's surgery, from a company called Mazor Robotics.  Dr. Fernandez says the device, about the size of a small soda can, allows her to pre-plan the procedure on a computer, more accurately than free-hand.

"With any new technology or medicine, you want it to be safe, first and foremost, you want it to be effective, and you want it to be cost-effective.  This affords all three of those things," Dr. Fernandez said.

Surgeons still do the surgery, she points out.  This technology simply adds a level of precision by pinpointing the spot where a screw will be inserted.  Once screws are in place, a rod is used to straighten out the spine until it fuses.

Two months, 26 screws and one scar later, Madison says the recovery wasn't so bad.  She was home from the hospital in just three days, and says she feels better than ever.
"It's been good!  I have no pain at all, really able to move around and stuff.  I'm actually really good.  I feel like I'm normal again," Madison remarked.

Feeling like a normal teenager, with more self-confidence and no more pain, is exactly what her mom wanted for her.

 "I want her to do whatever she wants to do.  And be healthy.  She is!" said Katie.

Dr. Fernandez point out, pain is not always associated with scoliosis.  Kids are usually diagnosed because of a hump  or other curve in their back.  She says there are theories as to what causes it, but the only thing doctors know for sure is that there's a hereditary component.


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