SAN DIEGO (AP) - A San Diego hospital has become the first in the nation to implant experimental rods that could help children with scoliosis avoid years of back surgeries.
A team of surgeons at Rady Children's Hospital on Tuesday placed pairs of thin metal rods in two boys suffering from scoliosis, a severe curvature of the spine that can cause serious problems if untreated.
"The curvature of the spine affects the lung function and breathing of these children and, because of that, they are at significant risk of complications and even death," said Dr. Behrooz Akbarnia, a University of California, San Diego professor.
The typical treatment involves placing an adjustable metal rod on either side of a patient's spine. However, surgeons have to operate every six months or so to lengthen the rods as the children grow.
The devices installed Tuesday contain a corkscrew-like mechanism attached to special magnets. Doctors can use a magnetic field to turn the screw and lengthen the rods without surgery.
That reduces the chance of infection that comes with reopening a surgical site, said Dr. Burt Yaszay, a member of the operating team.
"If they get a bad infection, all that metal has to come out, so anything we can do to minimize repeated exposures, we want to do," Yaszay said.
Tomas Loredo, 5, of Modesto, received the rods.
"He asked me when he woke up this morning, 'did I get my new back?'" his mother, Rachel Thomas, told U-T San Diego (http://bit.ly/10tNN4t ).
"For him to have surgery every six months would just be very hard on his body and could be fatal for him," Thomas said. "For him to be able to have one surgery and go back to being a 5-year-old is just magic."
The devices were created by Ellipse Technologies, of Irvine. More than 350 have been installed around the world, said Ed Roschak, the company's chief executive.
However, they are not approved for use in the United States. Ellipse and Rady received special clearance from the Food and Drug Administration to perform the surgeries under its "compassionate use" program.
Anthony Wainess, 9, of Chino Hills, also received the rods.
His parents had researched the device and were willing to leave the U.S. to obtain it for their son, said his father, Steven Wainess.
"I was ready to liquidate every asset that I owned and move to the U.K., or one of the other countries that has the product," Wainess said.
Ellipse requested FDA approval in 2011.
"We think approval by the end of the year is realistic," Roschak said.