Revolutionary surgery gives hope

PUBLISHED: 17:18 01 June 2006 | UPDATED: 10:56 22 October 2010


To see three-year-old Thomas Smith running around his garden kicking a football, it's hard to believe this is a child who will need two operations a year until he is a teenager.


To see three-year-old Thomas Smith running around his garden kicking a football, it's hard to believe this is a child who will need two operations a year until he is a teenager.

Thomas was born with scoliosis - curvature of the spine - and the diagnosis was that it would get progressively worse.

Scoliosis is a condition that could leave children crippled for life but revolutionary surgery at Norfolk's flagship hospital is offering hope to families across East Anglia that their children grow up straight and tall.

A operation using hi-tech instrumentation will mean that Thomas from Hemsby will grow into a strong and straight-backed young man, able to enjoy life to the full.

At the beginning of April, he underwent six hours of surgery at the Norfolk and Norwich University Hospital to straighten his spine with screws and “growing rods” beside it.

Consultant orthopaedic and spinal surgeon Am Rai explained that the reason Thomas will need two operations a year until his teens is that every six months the rods will be extended. “Effectively, the instrumentation will grow as Thomas grows,” said Mr Rai.

More than a dozen children are seen at the N&N's spinal clinic each week with the condition and three major operations on the scale of the surgery Thomas had are carried out each month to straighten curved spines.

Scoliosis is a condition that is tackled by a specialist team at the N&N, which is the only unit in East Anglia offering a comprehensive spinal service

It involves spinal surgeons, physiotherapists, anaesthetists and patient liaison staff who can talk to families about the operation or put them in touch with other families who have been through a similar experience and help them understand the decision-making


With Mr Rai, the team also includes surgeon Robert Crawford; two dedicated consultant anaesthetists in Dr Paul Barker and Dr Lorna Kerr; patient liaison officer Ann Chandler, who is also the Scoliosis Association regional representative; paediatric physiotherapist Veronica Van-Ree; Gordon Lindsay who is responsible for measuring patients and fitting braces, ward nurses and a skilled team of theatre nurses as well as a muscular-skeletal radiologist.

Mr Rai said: “The operations are pretty high risk but the results can be very good. It is satisfying to give a good cosmetic appearance for the child and also give them an opportunity to lead a normal life.”

Teenager Francesca Hilliard is a teenager who has had surgery to correct a curvature in her spine.

She lived with scoliosis for much of her life without realising it.

Her mum Marianne often asked her to “stand up straight” but the family never suspected anything untoward until December 2002 when Francesca was 12.

Now 15, she said: “I was lying on the floor and I felt quite uncomfortable. I asked mum to have a look at my back. It looked like it was out of place.”

Francesca went to see her GP who referred her to consultant orthopaedic and spinal surgeon Am Rai who decided to operate. She had the five-hour op, which saw long metal rods straighten the middle part of her spine. The results are significant. She now stands upright and has more confidence.

Unlike Thomas, Francesca will only need one operation. Her spine has been fused in position with titanium screws and rods and because she has finished growing they will remain in place for life.

t Don't miss Friday's EDP for pictures and special reports on scoliosis.

Links: Scoliosis Association: or tel. 0208 964 1166

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