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Body cast offers corrective hope for kids with scoliosis

January 9, 2013 12:00:00 AM PST
Scoliosis spinal curvature can be improved with surgeries and metal rods, but something simple could cure it for some.

Weeks after her son Cole was born, Jennifer Leggett feared something was wrong.

Cole had a severe form of scoliosis: idiopathic infantile scoliosis. His spine curved 45 degrees. Experts said surgery could help, but he'd be disabled.

The curvature would worsen causing breathing problems and even early death. The Leggets soon found Dr. Jim Sanders of the University of Rochester Medical School. Sanders is using an old technique cast aside by experts decades earlier.

"They kind of threw the baby out with the bathwater, almost literally here, since it's really the babies who benefit from this," said Sanders.

Plaster body casts worn below the shoulders and above the hips use pressure to reshape the spine. Kids get a new cast every two months. The child is given general anesthesia because doctors must manipulate the spine before encasing the child's torso.

It keeps some kids from ever needing surgery. For others, it delays surgery until they're older.

Cole needed no surgery. Now he's fully mobile.

Dr. Sanders says he's been actively training surgeons in the casting technique and it is now available in many sites across the country.

Sanders says the casting has helped cure about 25 percent of kids with scoliosis and significantly delayed surgery in about 70 percent.