On February 22, 2022, 14-year-old Emily made history that had nothing to do with the repeating twos in the date. On that Tuesday, she became the first patient in Louisiana to receive a new spinal surgery treating adolescent idiopathic scoliosis (AIS).
Called the ApiFix procedure, the surgery is a less invasive, motion-preserving option for achieving spinal curve correction. John Faust, MD; Brad Culotta, MD; and Ryan P Farmer, MD, orthopedic surgeons with Our Lady of the Lake Children’s Health, collaborated on Emily’s successful surgery.
The strength of Our Lady of the Lake Children’s Health network enabled this groundbreaking surgery to come to Louisiana. Baton Rouge-based Dr. Faust led the team that included Dr. Farmer, who primarily practices at Our Lady of Lourdes Women’s & Children’s Hospital in Lafayette, and Baton Rouge-based Dr. Culotta.
“My back started curving when I hit puberty,” Emily says. “At first we didn’t think it was that bad.” Emily’s first X-rays were done in October 2021, and by November her curve had increased by 20 degrees. Emily’s curve was first diagnosed by Amber Barksdale, PNP-C, and the family has developed a strong relationship with her as a provider.
Scoliosis is a side-to-side curve of the spine greater than 10 degrees. AIS, the most common type of scoliosis, occurs in late childhood or adolescence. Its cause is unknown. In many cases, AIS curves are stable; however, in some cases like Emily’s, the curve can continue to progress. For curves that are progressing, treatment options could include bracing or surgery, such as a spinal fusion.
“At first, I was going to get the spinal fusion,” Emily says. Dr. Faust sent her records to a team of doctors who agreed she was a prime candidate for the newer, less invasive ApiFix surgery that would also maintain more back mobility. The doctors considered her age, the amount of her curve and her growth plates before recommending the procedure.
“I was nervous about getting the surgery at first. Being the first one in Louisiana, that part was scary,” Emily says. But as she and her family weighed their options, the prospect of maintaining mobility helped her overcome those nerves and fear.
Although she had taken this school year off from dancing, the idea that she couldn’t dance again with a spinal fusion was another reason she and her family chose the ApiFix procedure.
In the first week since the surgery, Emily has experienced great success in her recovery. Her curve has improved from 42 degrees to 9 degrees so far. She has some soreness in her back in the mornings and evenings, but her care team expects that it will eventually fade.
Emily’s grandmother, Cathy, says while the family was anxious about the procedure, Our Lady of the Lake Children’s Health team was able to support them through the uncertainty.
“We really didn’t know what to expect since it hasn’t been done very much,” Cathy says. “It was just such a positive experience. I can’t say enough positive things about it.”
Emily agrees. “My experience with Our Lady of the Lake Children’s Hospital was really good. At first, I don’t think the nurses knew I was the first one to have the surgery, but once they found out they were all so amazed.”
Emily should be able to return to school in person to finish out her freshman year, and she’s looking forward to returning to the dance studio as well.