Connor stands tall after spine-saving surgery

Surgeon perform operation in a theatre
05 October 2018

Nine-year-old Connor was the first person in Europe to have groundbreaking new surgery to treat his curved spine. Thanks to the spinal experts at Sheffield Children’s, just months later he is leading an active and happy life.

Connor Demetriou had his surgery at Sheffield Children’s Hospital in May this year. The innovative procedure was carried out by specialists at Sheffield Children’s as part of an international study, involving 17 patients worldwide.

The treatment – known as trolley surgery – involves inserting expanding rods into the spine. This realigns the curve and allows the rods to grow with the child as they get older.

Connor has scoliosis, a limiting and often painful condition where the spine twists and curves to one side. Connor’s scoliosis was particularly acute, causing his back to curve by 96 degrees and twisting his ribcage. The severity of his condition meant that his lungs and heart were under pressure, and a surgical procedure was needed to intervene before Connor’s breathing difficulties worsened.

Connor’s mum Michaela said: “This surgery wasn’t just to improve the quality of his life, but also to save his life.”

Following surgery, Connor stands up straight – two inches taller than before – and can run, swim, jump, and play football with ease.

The revolutionary trolley surgery has only been performed at three institutions worldwide and takes between five and six hours to complete. The procedure was carried out by a team of nine at Sheffield Children’s, led by consultant spinal surgeon Mr Lee Breakwell. The operation is considered the first of its kind as the generic trolley structure needed to be modified to suit Connor’s severe curve. In order to straighten and support the spinal vertebrae, up to six growing rods are put in place, providing an anchor point for the spine to sit against. These rods are inserted through incisions at the top and bottom of the back, and are then attached to the spine using fastenings that allow movement and the steady, guided growth of a child’s back. There are two institutions in the UK and one in Switzerland who have the authority to carry out this procedure.

Consultant Spinal Surgeon Mr Lee Breakwell said: “I was aiming to save his life in the long term and to help him live a normal, healthy life into middle-age, but to hear he’s enjoying his childhood is a bonus for me.

“We’re constantly looking for ways to improve outcomes for our patients with scoliosis. This innovative surgery is another in the long line of groundbreaking work we are doing for the children and families we care for.”

The pioneering surgery was explored on BBC’s documentary series Inside Out, which followed the success of Connor’s treatment. For an insight into the surgery and what goes on at the hospital, watch the show live on 8 October or catch it on iPlayer.

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