TORONTO -- Painful surgery and months in a body cast may soon be at an end for victims of scoliosis, a spinal disease which afflicts as many as 10 percent of all teenage girls.
Doctors at Toronto's Hospital for Sick Children announced Thursday a radical new treatment for the disease which can reduce the treatment time, previously as long as a year, to mere hours.
Traditional techniques for treating the disease, which results in crippling curvature of the spine, called for the surgical implantation of a metallic rod in the back followed by many months in a body cast.
But with the new technique developed by Dr. Walter Bobechko, 10 stainless steel clamps are permanently implanted along the spine and patients can literally walk away from the operating table without the help of braces or casts.
'It's a real breakthrough from the kid's point of view, and from the hospital's point of view as well,' said Bobechko.
'The children no longer have to spend two weeks to two months strapped into a striker bed getting turned from side to side, and there's no longer any need for body casts or braces.
'The savings to the hospital are enormous. We no longer have the tremendous expense of bed care, and the many hours of watching over the patient.'
Bobechko introduced Christine Castronaro, 17, of Windsor, Ont., and Lynn Fox, 14, of St. Catharines, Ont., both of whom underwent the surgery two weeks ago.
Miss Castronaro, who had suffered a 90-degree spinal curvature, said she was now a full five inches taller than before her operation and Miss Fox said she was able to walk away from the operating table after four hours of surgery to correct her 55-degree curvature of the spine.
'It feels a bit stiff now, but it sure felt good to get up and walk after the operation,' Miss Fox said.
Both girls are looking forward to getting back to their friends, and, in Miss Castronaro's case, picking out a new wardrobe. 'Right now I'm wearing my sister's pants,' she said, reflecting on her new height.
Scoliosis is the most common condition treated surgically at the hospital, said Bobechko. If caught at an early stage it can be easily treated and most schools have a screening program for the disease.
However, 'scoliosis has no warning symptoms,' he said. 'It's painless and many children don't know they have it. Occasionally the curve progresses very rapidly in teenage girls.'
In Miss Fox's case the curvature was progressing at five degrees a month, he said.
Last year Bobechko developed a treatment for spinal curvatures of less than 40 degrees, in which an mechanism much like a pacemaker is implanted in the spine to stimulate muscle development. It has not proved effective in more serious cases, however.
The new operation requires removal of all the muscles from the spine, and then placing the clamps into strategic locations.
'You actually see the spine straighten before your eyes,' said Bobechko. 'The clamps stay in forever, but the kids will never be able to tell the difference.'