Long Island doctors have implanted two thin metal rods that respond to magnetic-wave energy into a 4-year-old Hempstead girl as a way to permanently straighten her spine and improve her posture.
The procedure, performed at Cohen Children's Medical Center in New Hyde Park last month, was the first ever on Long Island, said Dr. Terry Amaral, chief of pediatric orthopedics.
The child, Jordan Jennings, was born with infantile scoliosis, severe curvature of the spine.
"In December of 2014, her curvature had advanced to 130 degrees," said Dr. Selina Poon, who performed the implant operation.
"We had tried treating her with a brace and it just wasn't enough."
Amaral and Poon said Thursday they were pleased to report that the implant procedure not only was successful, the child's spinal curvature has already been reduced to 66 degrees.
While not perfectly straight, the doctors said, the little girl is significantly better.
The implanted rods have internal spinning mechanisms -- tiny motors -- Amaral said Thursday, that respond to an external device that produces magnetic energy.
The energy causes the rods to move the spine in tiny increments -- mere millimeters at a time -- to lengthen and thereby straighten it.
"This is done with an internal motor and an external motor," Amaral added.
"It's very controlled lengthening. The patient is wide-awake and is in no pain."
The technology borrows on a Cold War-era notion that bones can be manipulated. Gavriil Abramovich Ilizarov developed an external fixation device that is used to lengthen or reshape damaged limbs.
The difference is that pins are inserted through the affected bone and a large external "fixation" device holds the pins in place.
They are turned by millimeters to lengthen bones shortened by accidents or short stature.
The device is known as the Ilizarov Apparatus.
Amaral noted that there is nothing external that is in contact with internal structures in this procedure that might lead to infection.
Jordan's parents had taken her to a chiropractor in attempts to defeat scoliosis, but the condition worsened, forcing Joan and Douglas Jennings to seek orthopedic care for their daughter.
The new scoliosis-correcting procedure is known as MAGEC for MAGnetic Expansion Control Spinal Bracing System.
It was approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration only last year. However, it had been approved and widely used in Europe for years, Amaral said.
With it, there is no need for follow-up surgeries to adjust the rods because the telescoping devices adjust the spine in the doctor's office every few months, eliminating the potential for complications from surgery, he said.
Most children who undergo conventional treatment usually have the corrective surgery in their teens, but the process requires multiple operations, Amaral said.
Joan Jennings told a news conference Thursday at Cohen Children's Medical Center that she felt very uncomfortable with the prospect of her daughter facing surgeries every six months to help eliminate the curvature from her spine.