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Gabby’s story: A positive outcome after undergoing VBT surgery to treat scoliosis
Photo courtesy of Kristina Mott
For 12-year-old Gabby Mott, sporting activities have been a huge part of her childhood. Since the age of four, she played soccer, and still enjoys this competitive sport to this very day. Last December, Gabby took a break from playing soccer after undergoing scoliosis surgery to correct a curvature on her spine.
“Before her diagnosis, my daughter often complained about back pain,” Kristina said. “Whenever she would bend over, I noticed the right side of her back was raised more than the left side. Her pediatrician told us that usually during a growth spurt, the spine will curve slightly. We had regular visits with Gabby’s pediatrician to monitor her spine for any visible changes. When the COVID-19 pandemic hit in March 2020, we couldn’t go to her follow-up visit. Instead, I checked Gabby’s back, and I could feel her spine was curved. So, I went on my neighborhood Facebook page to see if anyone knew of a pediatric orthopedic surgeon who specialized in the treatment of scoliosis. I received a lot of comments, and many of the families recommended Dr. Darrell Hanson, who treats children with scoliosis at Texas Children’s.”
In April 2020, Gabby had her first appointment with Dr. Hanson. When he X-rayed her, the curvature on her thoracic spine was significant. It was initially between a 45 and 48-degree curve, which is on the severe end of the spectrum. During her appointment, surgery wasn’t discussed. Instead, Dr. Hanson wanted to try non-surgical approaches first. He recommended that Gabby wear a back brace to see if that would correct the curvature of her spine. Gabby was fitted for a brace and wore it at least 16 hours a day.
“The only time my daughter wasn’t wearing a brace was during PE and when she played soccer,” Kristina said. “Despite wearing her brace for five months, Gabby’s curvature had gotten two degrees worse. After talking with a parent whose daughter had VBT surgery to treat scoliosis, I began doing my own research about this new surgical procedure. Fingers crossed, I thought maybe this could be an option for Gabby.”
Vertebral Body Tethering (VBT) is most commonly used for patients with idiopathic scoliosis for which their condition cannot be treated successfully with nonsurgical methods. VBT is recommended for patients with a moderate to significant spinal curve who are still growing. This method uses a tether or flexible cord that is pulled tightly along the spine. As the patient grows, the tether helps the spine straighten out over time.
“In Sept. 2020, we scheduled our second appointment with Dr. Hanson to discuss the VBT procedure,” Kristina said. “Since the bracing wasn’t improving Gabby’s condition – and since she was not finished growing – Dr. Hanson suggested VBT would be a good option to consider at this time. After explaining the procedure and answering all of our questions, I was comfortable to proceed with Gabby’s surgery.”
On Dec. 17, 2020, Dr. Hanson performed Gabby’s VBT surgery, a cutting-edge treatment approach for severe scoliosis, that allows more normal range of motion for the patient and a faster recovery period.
“In traditional spinal fusion surgery, instrumentation is attached to the curved part of the spine and pieces of bone are placed over the spine which eventually fuses with the spinal bone to correct the curvature,” Dr. Hanson said. “Since the spine is fused, this essentially shuts down all range of motion over the instrumented areas. With the VBT approach, the spine is tethered instead of fused, which allows for continued growth and mobility along the entire spine. During Gabby’s VBT surgery, we made a small incision under her right arm and accessed the spine through the thoracic cavity. Under X-ray, a series of screws were placed across the individual vertebral bodies to be tethered. Then, a dynamic stabilization tether cord was attached to these screws. Tension was applied to the tether to straighten her spine.”
Following Gabby’s surgery nine months ago, her spinal curvature has improved significantly from 50 to 27 degrees. As Gabby continues to grow, Dr. Hanson says her curvature may improve even more.
“After surgery, it’s hard to tell that she has scoliosis,” Kristina said. “Since the surgery, Gabby is doing great. She doesn’t have back pain anymore. She sees Dr. Hanson every three months for her follow-up appointments. We are so grateful to Dr. Hanson, the nurses and staff who were involved in my daughter’s care. They helped put my mind at ease, especially during my daughter’s surgery, and kept me abreast of how Gabby was doing, which I appreciated very much. I am so happy that my daughter is doing well.”
When spinal surgery is required, Texas Children’s offers the most advanced approaches and techniques. Click here to learn more about VBT and other innovative procedures to treat patients with scoliosis.