Fewer back surgeries for kids with “MAGEC” technology
Eight-year-old Isabella Cuartas developed scoliosis just a few years ago. In June 2020, she was referred to McMaster Children’s Hospital’s (MCH) pediatric orthopedic clinic as the curvature in her spine worsened.
In January 2021, Isabella had surgery to implant a magnetic rod that can be lengthened using an electronic remote control as she grows. She was the first patient at MCH to use this new technology, called “MAGEC,” which stands for MAGnetic Expansion Control System.
Since the surgery, her scoliosis curve significantly improved, decreasing from 70 degrees to 30 degrees.
Isabella’s family is grateful she was able to receive the new magnetic rod instead of undergoing a series of surgeries. Before the MAGEC technology, children would need surgery every 6-8 months in order to lengthen the rod used to straighten their spine. Now, lengthening can occur with a 10-minute, non-invasive procedure performed in an outpatient clinic.
The technology eliminates the need for multiple surgeries and associated complications and risks like infection, spinal cord injury, and death.
Swapping the OR for a clinic visit
“The idea of the magnetic rod lengthening is that we bring patients to the clinic instead of the operating room,” says pediatric orthopedic surgeon Dr. Waleed Kishta. “It’s very easy for children to get the lengthening procedure done at the clinic. It’s a very big change for families with less stress of complications.”
Although the first surgery to implant the magnetic rod is complex – the rod is inserted through multiple incisions in the leg – the lengthening procedures that follow are quick, painless, and take place every 3-6 months.
The technology is used for early onset scoliosis, usually for people under ten years old, with a minimum recommended age of two years old.
The first MAGEC rod procedure was performed in Canada in 2014. This technology is currently a standard of care for specialized pediatric care centers in Ontario.
After achieving the maximum correction possible with the rod, it is removed and a more permanent “fusion surgery” is performed at adolescent age, usually around 14 years old. This surgery involves fusing together metal parts with bone to straighten the spine.
Special first-time surgery
The Cuartas family says the experience at MCH has been positive.
“Isabella felt very special because it was the first time they did the surgery there,” says her father, Ovidio Cuartas. “Everybody wanted to take care of her. We are really grateful and really happy.”
Isabella is recovering well but still needs some help getting out of bed. She is advised not to exercise quite yet, but can get back to it in just a few more months.
When she’s able, she knows exactly what she is going to do.
“Run and ride horses.”