Life Changing Spinal Surgery Allows Young Boy With Cerebral Palsy to Walk

dorsal rhizotomyChildren with cerebral palsy can become paralyzed from their disorder. Medical and surgical advances are being developed and improved to allow these children to regain mobility and ease the severe symptoms caused by the disease, such as spasticity.

The Story

Beau Brown, a six-year-old child from Staniland Drive, Weybridge, in the UK, is able to take some steps on his own after receiving revolutionary spinal surgery. Before the surgery, Beau was unable to walk due to his cerebral palsy. Beau was able to take his first few steps after spending three weeks of rehab processes at the Footstep Centre in Oxford.

The Fundraising

Beau’s family, his mother Theresa, his father Matt, and his brother Bailey, all engaged in a mission to help Beau receive the funds for a surgery. The procedure cost of 60,000 pounds, or $96,666 in United States currency. The local community worked together to raise the money. The fundraising efforts contained events such as fundraisers at St. James C of E Primary School, Beau’s school, and at the Brown family’s business, a salon in Weybridge.

The money raised by the community paid for Beau’s surgery procedure, rehabilitation, and travel and accommodations back and forth to St. Louis, Missouri in the United States, as well as eight months of intensive physiotherapy back in the United Kingdom.

The Aftermath

Thanks to the procedure, Beau is now able to walk using a metal frame K-walker instead of the wheelchair he formerly used. According to this mother, Beau is taking intensive treatment to work on the muscles that he has not used in his lifetime. Theresa also says that Beau wants to become a police officer and play soccer, and that he told her that he is about to make his dream come true.

The Surgery

The surgical treatment that Beau Brown undertook to regain some of his mobility is known as selective dorsal rhizotomy (SDR). According to the St. Louis Children’s Hospital, this procedure has gone through the most scrutiny, as compared to other cerebral palsy surgeries. SDR works by dividing the dorsal roots that lie in the spinal canal into rootlets. The surgeons stimulate the rootlets with electricity and by using the electromyographic (EMG) responses from muscles in the lower extremities, they determine which rootlets are causing spasticity. The surgeons then selectively cut the rootlets, leaving the remaining rootlets safe and untouched.

SDR reduces spasticity by reducing the messages to the muscles, which results in activity balance of the nerve cells in the spinal cord.

Advantages of SDR

Despite some of the scrutiny directed at the procedure, selective dorsal rhizotomy has shown to have some advantages over other forms of orthopedic surgeries. Some of the advantages SDR has include:

  • Reduced risk of later spinal deformities
  • Less-intense, shorter back pain
  • Decreased motor weakness after surgery
  • Reduced hip flexor spasticity
  • Easier, more successful physical therapy
  • Less invasive compared to other surgeries
  • Reduced number of bone removals compared to other procedures
Possible Side Effects of SDR

Due to the complexity of the procedure, there are possible complications to SDR. Most of these risks are temporary. The following complications to SDR procedure are:

  • Leg and bladder paralysis
  • Sensory loss
  • Impotence
  • Meningitis and wound infection
  • Leakage of spinal fluid
  • Skin sensitivity
  • Temporary change in bladder control
  • Urinary tract infections and pneumonia
Benefits of SDR

Selective dorsal rhizotomy has long-term benefits. The most prominent of these benefits is the reduction of spasticity. In fact, SDR is the only current procedure that offers a permanent reduction of the condition. SDR also improves several other aspects. The improvements of SDR include:

  • Strength (after several weeks of temporary weakness)
  • Motor function (sitting, standing, walking, balance)
  • Deformity treatment
  • Reduced necessity for orthopedic surgeries
  • Upper extremity functions
  • Potty training improvements
  • Cognitive improvements
  • Speech improvements
  • Emotional improvements
Candidates for SDR

Not everyone is an ideal candidate for selective dorsal rhizotomy. Children that have spasticity with dystonia are the best candidates. The ideal age for the surgery is between ages three to six. Patients in kindergarten can benefit from this procedure, since they can focus on social interaction now that mobility is less of an issue. These children should also show the following strengths to be a candidate for the procedure:

  • Take a few steps of their own
  • Have support in the core and lower back muscles
  • Cooperate with weeks of physical therapy that follow the surgery
Consult With Medical Providers

Selective dorsal rhizotomy has its own risks and advantages. As always, it is always best for parents to consult with doctors and medical providers before considering the procedure and look at factors such as necessity, candidacy, the economic cost, and possible side effects and risks.