Using Magnets to Treat Scoliosis

Local News

It happens more often than you think. One in one-thousand children under the age of ten has early onset scoliosis. Their spinal curve can be so severe that they have a hard time breathing.  Until now, repeated surgeries were necessary until a child is fully grown. However, now there’s a new treatment that slashes both the time in hospitals and the number of surgeries and it all has to do with magnets.  

Eight-year-old Kora Olivo is typical for other eight-year-olds, but she’s a miracle to her parents. When she was born, doctors weren’t sure Kora would ever leave the hospital.   

Kora’s mom, Ali Oliv, said, “She wasn’t quite breathing right and so they took her to the NICU. And that’s when they discovered her back the way it was. She has partially formed vertebrae.”

“I’m also missing one part of my lung and I’m missing some of my ribs,” said Kora.

Kora had early onset scoliosis so badly, her orthopedist ordered surgery when she was barely five.

“As the curve continued, it would constrict even more of her lung function,” detailed Ali.

Lawrence Rinsky, MD, Pediatric Orthopedic Surgeon at Lucile Packard Children’s Hospital Stanford explains, “The standard operation was an operation where you put rods in and then hook them to the spine. Then you would go in every six months, repeat an operation, and lengthen the rods.”

Until now, that meant a childhood filled with hospitals and healing from as many as 12 surgeries.  However, Kora’s fate improved dramatically with a new treatment.

“The newer technology is to put a rod in that just grows with an external magnet. Every two to three months, you can lengthen them,” said Dr. Rinsky.

Also forget about operating rooms. The push of a remote control button lengthens the magnetic rods along her growing spine.  It’s over in a few minutes with almost no recovery time.         

“I’m taller and more straight,” detailed Kora.

Ali said, “It really has made it so that she can have such a traditional life.”

“It basically magic!” said Kora.

Magnetic rods won’t completely eliminate surgery for Kora and other early onset scoliosis patients. As they continue to grow, the rods will eventually expand as far as possible, requiring them to be replaced. But those operations typically are limited to around three versus 12 or more with the traditional procedure.

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