Children's Health

Spine Surgery Corrects Young Girl’s Scoliosis

Twelve-year-old Danesha Sangster of Saginaw was an active middle school student involved with softball, basketball and cheerleading. However, her days on the playing field have taken a temporary hiatus. Danesha is recovering from scoliosis surgery following diagnosis and intervention at Helen DeVos Children’s Hospital. An estimated 600,000 children in the United States have scoliosis – a condition that causes the spine to curve in the wrong direction.

“Every child’s spine curves,” said Jeff Cassidy, M.D., orthopedic surgeon, Helen DeVos Children’s Hospital. “A certain amount of curvature is necessary for balance, movement and proper walking. It can be hereditary, and girls are more prone to developing severe cases of spinal curvature than boys.”

Scoliosis is typically diagnosed when children are between the ages of 10 and 14. Screenings were historically performed in schools but this practice now varies by district. Often spine curvature is not noticeable but sometimes is obvious and one shoulder blade is noticeably higher than the other. In Danesha’s case, the scoliosis was obvious.

“I noticed Danesha leaning to one side,” said Donita Lacey, Danesha’s mom. “I knew something wasn’t right. We were referred to Helen DeVos Children’s Hospital after a visit with our pediatrician.”

Cassidy diagnosed Danesha with scoliosis by measuring her cobb angle or measure of the curvature of the spine in degrees. A scoliosis curve of 10 to 15 degrees usually requires no treatment, other than regular checkups through puberty. If the curve is 25 to 40 degrees, an orthopedic specialist may suggest a back brace. An angle of 45 to 50 degrees or more often requires surgery.

“While most children develop scoliosis gradually, Danesha’s condition progressed rapidly,” explained Cassidy. “The first time I examined her, the spine was curved at a 52 degree angle. A few months later it progressed to 80 degrees and finally to 96 degrees by the time she had surgery.”

During Danesha’s surgery, Cassidy placed small pieces of bone along the spine which will eventually allow it to fuse and prevent the spine from curving again. He also inserted metal rods to keep the spine straight until the bone joins together with the vertebrae. Danesha’s recovery is going well, and Cassidy anticipates she will be back fully active in athletics within a year. Most children with scoliosis lead an active and normal life.

“Approximately five percent of children with scoliosis need surgery,” added Cassidy. “Scoliosis can often be treated with non-surgical intervention. Regardless of what treatment we provide, children with scoliosis can live an active, normal life.”

Helen DeVos Children’s Hospital is a Grand Rapids-based hospital serving children throughout Michigan. A teaching hospital, it includes more than 150 pediatric specialty physicians with specialized training in providing medical and surgical care to children in more than 40 pediatric specialties. We care for 7,600 children on an inpatient basis and 190,000’children at outpatient sites annually. The staff at Helen DeVos Children’s Hospital is committed to caring for children and families with compassion, excellence and innovation. The children’s hospital is one of seven hospitals in the Spectrum Health system.