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Monday, January 30, 2012


Rebekah has scoliosis, and it seems to be getting progressively worse.  We go to a Shriners Hospital to follow its progression and they have been reluctant to do many interventions. But each x-ray has been getting steadily worse, so they agreed it was time to do something to try to slow down the progression. The danger of scoliosis, especially an 'S' curve scoliosis, is that it will eventually crowd the heart and one lung restricting growth and obviously causing problems. We are a long way from that point, but it seems evident that we will eventually get there. The doctor would like to slow down the growth as much as possible so that we can hold off on any kind of surgery until she is a teenager. Once you fuse the spine, put rods in place, or any of the other surgical methods for correcting bad scoliosis, you stunt growth so that the patient can really no longer grow. While there are some nonsurgical casting procedures, they are not considered as effective for 'S' curve scoliosis as for 'C' curve scoliosis, especially in patients with a chromosome disorder.

There are many types of scoliosis braces. The original plan was to get a hard shell TLSO (Thoraco-Lumbo-Sacral-Orthosis brace, or also known as a Boston brace). But because the corrective pressure put on her during the casting did not result in a >50% improvement, we went with a TLSO that has more padding and less hard plastic and will be a little more breathable. The doctor is hoping it will encourage us to use it more often and therefore be more effective in the long term. But we have to try to balance maintaining her spinal curve with improving her development. In any case, the braces hinder her development by limiting her movement and adding a lot of weight to her already weak muscles.

Here is a picture story of the process of getting fitted for a TLSO, which includes being plastered in a cast.

9/21/11 S Curve Measurements: Top - 27 degrees, Bottom - 29 degrees
12/14/11 S Curve Measurements: Top - 33 degrees, Bottom - 30 degrees

Getting ready for the casting. First a tight body shirt is placed on the patient. The shirt has no obvious seams to cause irritation and the same kind of shirt is worn under the TLSO to help prevent breakdown of the skin.

Rebekah was placed on a crazy contraption and balanced on about a 2 inch wide 'sling'. Then warm, wet pieces of plaster were wrapped around her body from below the arm pits to right below the hip bones. Then they were smoothed down. Rebekah seemed in a trance and loved the attention, proprioceptive input, and the warmth. They stated she was, by far, the easiest 2 year old they had done!

Then her feet are put in straps at one end and her head put into a sling of sorts. They applied pressure to 3 different points in order to compensate for and correct the scoliosis. Then they 'crank' the contraption and stretch her out like the medieval 'rack' used in torture chambers. (It didn't really hurt her, just gave her a nice stretch. She actually didn't complain during the whole process; it probably felt really good on her back.) She was kept in this position for about 10 minutes until the plaster was hardened.

Once hardened, she was taken out and carried to x-ray to see how well the correction worked.

Here she is getting the x-ray done. The pins show the sections where the correction pressure points were placed.

Here is the x-ray with the cast. From my untrained eye, it seemed tons better than the previous x-rays. But it didn't improve her scoliosis the desired 50% or better goal. The S curve was now about 117 degrees on the top and 21 degrees on the bottom. The bottom curve was much harder to correct and clearly is bone growth, not weak muscle as previously thought by the doctors during earlier x-rays. This means we will not be able to correct the curve, but we will try to slow down the progression so that it does not get real bad before puberty, the preferred time for any surgical interventions since growth of the spine can be stunted once surgery is performed. Even the growing rods only have a certain amount of growth capability built into them. All of this was disappointing to hear. But we are committed to doing what we can to improve Rebekah's condition without greatly hindering her developmental growth opportunities. The trick is to figure out how much use of the brace is necessary to slow the growth down while we continue to see developmental gains and encourage Rebekah to sit on her own and move and roll around. A brace would certainly limit her movement and exploration at this critical stage of her development.

With the x-rays over, the plaster cast can now be removed. A little hand saw is used and it is cut in a straight line that was drawn on her during the casting process. Right under the line is a heavy weight strip of material that prevents the saw from going into her skin.

Then a tool is used to separate the cast so we can pull her out. The cast needs to remain intact so it can be used to mold the new TLSO.

A few weeks later the base TLSO was completed. I forgot my camera the day of the fitting, but basically they put the tight white undershirt on like in the picture. The shell was placed on Rebekah and cut to fit her under the arms, far enough below the trach not to obstruct it, and high enough at the hips to allow her to sit in the TLSO. Then it was drilled to add airholes and the straps were added to it.

Here is the front of the completed TLSO. The round hole is cut for her g-tube so that the shell doesn't need to be removed for each feeding. The 3 straps are pulled so that the TLSO is tight enough to 'not move', but not so tight that it hinders breathing. We undo the lower straps during feeding just so we don't have so much pressure on her little tummy that it causes her to vomit.

The back goes all the way down past the sacram, but does not go too far to hinder sitting. The white sections with the holes are in areas where there are no pressure points. This adds a little more air circulation and comfort to the TLSO. However, if the casting had improved her scoliosis more, they would have stayed with a hard shell brace that would ultimately be more effective (but less comfortable). The lack of improvement is because the scoliosis is based more on hard bone curvature versus a muscular cause to the curve which is more 'correctable' over time.
So for anyone facing a casting scenario for your child's scoliosis, this should give you an idea of what you might expect. Although the process was time-consuming, it wasn't difficult on Rebekah. She rather enjoyed the warmth and confinement of the plaster session. She didn't care for the brace the first week or two and seemed to hold her breath. But we never really got much out of her than a little whining. She is now doing well in it, and can wear it pretty much all the time with no issues with her skin. We take it off for a few hours here and there for therapy and play time. It is supposed to be worn like 23 hours per day, but we have to balance physical development with reducing the curve progression. We will have to go through the process probably about once every 4 months or so, depending on her rate of growth. If her curve remains stable from the last uncasted x-ray statistics, then we will know we have a good plan in place.


  1. fascinating!

  2. Really great post explaining the process visually. I learned a lot! :)

  3. Very cool...we also have scoliosis to deal with so it is always good to learn.

  4. Susan, My name is Cynthia Dunbar. I am Lila Armocks mother. I have been praying for you and your family since shortly before your angels birth. Keep up the good work!! You and I, and so many others are, by virtue of our lives testimony to the glory of God. As a fellow warrior,and child of God, I am always grateful that God has chosen me and my family to show to the whole world what faith is. My prayers for Gods continued blessings on you and your family.

  5. Thank you Susan for the step by step visual explanation. This helps tons! The brace looks very professionally done. I hope my Vera will take to it like Rebekah!

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