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Magnets Could Make Life More Comfortable For Kids With Scoliosis

PATERSON, N.J.(CBSNewYork) -- Imagine having a young child with scoliosis who needs surgery to straighten their spine.

That's traumatic enough, but the surgery may have to be repeated every 6 months.

As CBS2's Dr. Max Gomez explained, magnets might change all that.

Scoliosis is a curvature of the spine that is most common in teens. If it happens in young children spinal fusion would stunt growth, so doctors have to repeat the surgery many times until they reach their full height.

Now, magnetic rods can actually grow with the child.

Karam Damra is a happy 5-year-old from New Jersey, who was born with a spinal tumor. Surgery took care of it, but left him with paralyzed spinal muscles which led to scoliosis. Left unchecked, the spinal curvature could get worse.

"The largest concern is the heart and the lungs. The curvature occurs within the chest cage and so the ribs become deformed leaving him at great risk for heart and lung failure in adulthood," Dr. Michael Faloon, St. Joseph's Regional Medical Center said.

The usual treatment would be to place metal rods in Karam's back to straighten and fuse his spine, but Karam is still growing.

"Karam would have to undergo surgery every five to six months just to lengthen the spine. At his age he would be at risk for greater than ten procedures," Dr. Faloon said.

Instead, Karam had high-tech, expendable rods inserted into his back. He needed just one operation, the rods will do the rest.

"He's gonna come in for an office visit, and basically we're gonna lengthen his spine, and he'll go home the same day without any incisions," Dr. Faloon said.

The rods have tiny magnetic motors in them and a locator rod finds the magnets.

Once every three to six months, Karam comes in to see Dr. Faloon who uses the magnetic rod to find the motors. Then, using a special electromagnet, Dr. Faloon activates the motors stretching Karam's spine by about a quarter inch -- no surgery required.

Karam is pretty shy, but his father said he has no pain from the lengthening.

"He doesn't get in pain," he said.

Karam's spine is already much straighter and he'll continue to have the magnetic lengthening for several years.

In addition to avoiding the risks of multiple surgeries, the rod also spares the psychological trauma that kids suffer from so many operations.

Most teenage scoliosis can be treated with bracing or one time surgery, but for growing kids the rods are a lifesaver.


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