Magic magnets help lengthen spine for scoliosis patients

SAN FRANCISCO – One in 1,000 children under the age of 10 has early onset scoliosis, a sideways curvature of the spine that can be so severe that patients have a hard time breathing.  

Until now, repeated surgeries were necessary until a child is fully grown. 

But there's a new treatment that cuts the time in hospitals and the number of surgeries, thanks to magnets. 
Kora Olivo, 8, is a miracle to her parents. When she was born, doctors weren't sure Kora would ever leave the hospital.   

"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 a partially-formed vertebrae," said Ali Olivo, Kora's mother.

Kora's onset scoliosis was so bad that her orthopedist ordered surgery when she was almost 5 years old.

"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," said Dr. Lawrence Rinsky, pediatric orthopedic surgeon at Lucile Packard Children's Hospital Stanford.

Until now, that meant a childhood spent in hospitals and healing from as many as 12 surgeries.  

But 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," Rinsky said.

A visit to the operating room is no longer needed with the new technology.

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," Kora said. "It's basically magic." 

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

Magnetic rods won't completely eliminate surgery for Kora and other early onset scoliosis patients. 

As young patients continue to grow, the rods will eventually expand as far as possible, requiring them to be replaced. 

Those operations, however, are typically limited to around three versus 12 or more with the traditional procedure.

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