Braces for spine gets patients up, tumbling

DENVER – Imagine, the faster you grow, the faster your spine curves. 

That's what happens when you're a child with scoliosis, which can be painful and debilitating. 

Now there's a new experimental procedure to correct the curvature. 

Ever since 11-year old Sophia Clem can remember, she's loved to bend and bounce and flip and flop. 

"I just have had quite a lot of balance and on the bars. I just ended up getting high scores, " she said.

Sophia was worried her tumbling days were numbered after she was diagnosed at age seven with scoliosis.

"It just kinda looked like a curve," Sophia said.

"We tried bracing, physical therapy, chiropractic care," Sophia's mom, Denise Clem, said.  

But Sophia's condition got worse. What started as a 14 degree curve was now at 36 degrees. 

Dr. Jaren Riley, a pediatric orthopedic surgeon at Rocky Mountain Hospital For Children has one huge concern for kids with scoliosis: keep them moving and maintain their range of motion. 

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One option, a traditional spinal fusion that would likely stop Sophia's growth or a new experimental surgery called vertebral body tethering.

"We place these screws, one screw into each of these individual bones of the spine. And then between each of those screws we place a rope. Then, tension that rope between the screws to make this curve straighten out," Riley said. 

Think of it like braces for the spine.   

"So the long side of the spine stays put, the short side keeps growing and the curve starts to straighten out," Riley said. 

Doctors saw immediate positive results. 

"It feels like a huge step forward, quite honestly," Riley said.

"The one thing I want to get back is like handstands or cartwheels on the beam because they're really fun to do," Sophia said.

The surgery is not approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. Risks include injury to the heart and lungs, infection, nerve damage and paralysis. 

Because the procedure is new, long term issues are not known.