Victoria: Standing Tall

Imagine a six-year-old going to a birthday party and not being able to throw off her shoes and jump in a bounce house or swing a bat at a rainbow-colored piñata, waiting blindfolded for that wellspring of candy.

“That’s the day the fun stopped.”

That day was Dec. 10, 2007, says Victoria, who was sidelined by the diagnosis of congenital scoliosis as a first-grader. This condition, which is an abnormal curvature of the spine, would ultimately require three surgeries recommended by Dr. Peter Newton of the Pediatric Orthopedic and Scoliosis Center at Rady Children’s.

Dec. 10, 2007 was her first surgery, lasting approximately six hours, where Dr. Newton removed two abnormally shaped vertebra and performed a limited fusion, which involves joining two pairs of vertebrae with screws and rods, called instrumentation. Victoria’s condition was discovered when she changed pediatricians and was having a yearly check-up last year. Her mother, Jovita, admitted surprise as Victoria was her youngest and third child and didn’t know much about this condition or signs or symptoms to look for. Victoria’s type of scoliosis cannot be passed onto her offspring, says Dr. Newton.

Six days after the first procedure, Victoria left the Rady Children’s and was required to wear a thoracolumbar orthosis, a plastic-fitted body brace to keep her spine aligned and allow it to heal. Jovita says she was required to wear the brace for eight to 12 hours per day. Victoria was allowed to choose the pattern of the body brace and elected purple and pink hearts.

Despite the cheery-looking body brace, life as Victoria knew it instantly changed. The once-active girl, involved with dance, monologue and acting classes since age 3, and who used to travel with her mom to Los Angeles on auditions, was now only offered the choice of swimming as an extracurricular activity. The vibrant brunette, who now flashes a jack-o-lantern smile, is represented by Abrams Artists Agency, had to immediately halt all trips to L.A. since her surgery.

Children are resilient, but so many new changes had taken place in Victoria’s life. Her family had relocated from Santee to Eastlake. Changing neighborhoods, schools and doctors… now this? In fact, when Victoria’s diagnosis happened, they were only given four months to wait for the first surgery date. There wasn’t a choice of whether the surgery was going to happen, Jovita says, but when. (Dr. Newton says that had the surgery not occurred, her growth would have continued “increasing deformity of her back and bent trunk.”) But having two spinal surgeries within three months of each other? She expresses that had Victoria not been “so strong, brave and understanding” she doesn’t think she could have been as strong as she was, too. She credits her close-knit family, including husband Jose, Sr., son Jose and wife Hivi, grandson Jaden, and son Danny with round-the-clock support during both recovery periods.

The second surgery was March 10, where Dr. Newton changed the rods from the first surgery to plan for healing of the bone and fusion of upper spine when her growth is completed. Victoria was in the Hospital only three days following this second surgery, which lasted three to four hours. Victoria proudly admits (and to everyone’s surprise) no pain medication after this surgery!

According to Dr. Newton, her third surgery will involve another fusion with instrumentation (rods and screws) of her upper spine curve, but this last surgery is “years” away from being scheduled. And that’s good news for Victoria, who welcomed the fun back to her life on Aug. 20, 2008 when Dr. Newton reviewed X-rays and released Victoria from wearing her body brace. She won’t have to wear a similar body brace after her third and final surgery.

Long-term, Victoria has a healthy outlook, despite her spinal condition and recent surgeries, says Dr. Newton. He predicts limited trunk motion (flexibility) for Victoria when it comes to certain types of sporting activities, but acknowledges that she should otherwise have no limitations in future activities. So, Victoria’s forecast for fun looks pretty bright!

Originally published in Kids’ NewsDay, San Diego Union-Tribune,
October 7, 2008.

Orthopedic Biomechanics Research Center Helps Surgeons Improve Patient Care

The Orthopedic Biomechanics Research Center (OBRC), commonly referred to as the Biomechanics Lab, is not your average resource center. In fact, it’s not for patients, but for doctors. But what it translates to is better patient care as surgeons at Rady Children’s can try out new techniques or modify their own with this internal resource.

About 60 percent of the work performed at the Biomechanics Lab revolves around spinal deformity correction. For example, Dr. Newton, who performed Victoria’s surgeries for her congenital scoliosis,  is working on research including minimally invasive-endoscopic fusion techniques, instrumentation system development for infants, small children and adolescents, and non-fusion treatment strategies to eliminate or reduce the need to perform fusion (growth and motion maintained).

Research, like that of Dr. Newton’s, is performed by approximately 95 percent of local surgeons. In addition to spinal research, the remainder of research is divided into sports medicine, as well as knee, shoulder and other joint research.

This information learned in the Lab allows Rady Children’s surgeons to make more informed choices of treatment taking into account the specific needs of each patient.