Teen is back dancing after scoliosis surgery
Moments before Mya Montgomery thrust herself into the countless leaps, kicks, spins and bends that make up one of her many dance routines, instructor Tricia Reynolds asked her to remember what they had said about the piece the last time she practiced.
“To be happier,” Mya offered as she stood in the center of a mirrored studio at NorthPointe Dance Academy in Lewis Center.
“More joy, right?” Reynolds responded. “Not too serious.”
These days, expressing joy about dancing isn’t difficult for the 12-year-old from Clintonville.
But there was a time, in February 2017, when she received news that terrified her and threatened her dream of one day dancing professionally, maybe even on Broadway.
Mya was told she had scoliosis, with a sideways curvature of 38 degrees near the top of her spine.
“I was shocked,” Mya said. “I was pretty scared that I wouldn’t be able to dance again.”
The plastic-and-Velcro brace she wore around her torso for several months, only removing it to dance, didn’t help. By June, the curvature had become severe, measuring 49 degrees.
Then, Mya said, came a miracle.
After many sleepless nights, Mya’s mom, Lisa Montgomery, had discovered an experimental procedure that had shown promise in treating growing spines while preserving flexibility.
Called vertebral body tethering, the technique uses a flexible cord to straighten curvatures as a child’s spine grows. Mya underwent the surgery on Aug. 1, and her curvature was reduced to 14 degrees.
The surgery involved placing several screws in the vertebrae along the curve line, said Dr. Baron Lonner, who performed Mya’s surgery at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York. The bungee-like cord was linked to the screws, tensioned and screwed into another vertebra.
The tethering technique gave Mya a less restrictive option from the standard procedure of spinal fusion, which uses steel rods to correct curvatures, stiffening the spine and limiting motion.
For Mya, who has been participating in dance competitions since she was 7, that would have been devastating. She spends about 20 hours a week at the dance academy.
“I just love it so much and there’s just a connection,” she said. “It’s just who I am.”
Tethering was first documented in 2010, according to the Scoliosis Research Society. Lonner, who practices at Scoliosis and Spine Associates in New York, has performed nearly 100 of the procedures the past three years, many on young athletes from around the world.
“I strongly believe this will become a big part of the future of scoliosis treatment,” he said. “I think it’s going to become a mainstay for patients who are healthy except for the curvature of the spine.”
Tethering implants are primarily used for certain adult surgeries and have not been approved by the Food and Drug Administration for the pediatric procedure. As such, there are few surgeons who perform the technique.
And it’s not for everyone. There are limitations based on the degree of curvature and how much longer the spine will continue to grow, said Dr. Laurel Blakemore, a spokeswoman for the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons.
As with any spine surgery there’s a chance of bleeding, infection or injury to nerves, blood vessels or the spinal cord. And there’s a chance the tether could fail by coming loose, overcorrecting or changing the spine in an unpredictable way, possibly leading to a second surgery or an eventual fusion.
“We hope that by using this device we’ll leave the spine more flexible and they’ll do better long term, but that hasn’t been proven,” said Blakemore, a University of Florida orthopedic surgeon who also sits on the board of the Scoliosis Research Society. “It’s exciting. It just needs to be watched.”
Left untreated, severe scoliosis can lead to back pain and possibly breathing and heart problems.
Mya’s scoliosis was diagnosed after she experienced pain in her tailbone. A ballet instructor noticed her hip and shoulder leaning to one side, a choreographer at a dance competition said her torso looked uneven, and her mom noticed a hump in her back.
After months of research and consultations with five surgeons, Lisa Montgomery trusted her daughter’s future to Lonner.
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