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A High-tech Solution

Austin Dossett’s idea of a good time generally involves sporting equipment and a little sweat.

The 17-year-old had only just finished a tough track practice when he grabbed his golf clubs for a few swings. When the Chester High School sophomore isn’t competing in sports like basketball, football, track and golf, he’s boating or lifting weights.

“I can’t stand just sitting around inside,” he says. “If I’m not on the golf course I want to be out on the boat.”

Just a few months earlier, Austin got news that made his family wonder if sports would continue to be in his future. The teen, whose family lives within view of both a golf course and lake, had a severe case of scoliosis.

An unexpected diagnosis

The curvature in his spine just hadn’t been noticed during previous physicals, said his mother Kim. Last summer, when the family was boating, she looked at her son’s back and realized that something wasn’t quite right.

“You could tell that his shoulders were a little uneven and you could see that his spine had a bit of a curve,” Kim said. “We decided we should have it checked out.”

In August, Austin’s doctor confirmed the family’s concern. The curvature in his back was so pronounced the only option to fix it was surgery. Without treatment, he’d be in a wheelchair by age 40.

“I went from thinking about football season to wondering about if I’m even going to be able to play again,” the teen said. “Sports are a pretty huge part of my life.”

Technology to heal

Although the news was frightening at first, the family consulted with Sanford pediatric orthopedic surgeon Geoffrey Haft, who told them there was a solution. Since it was too late to fix the curvature with a brace, Austin would need to undergo a spinal fusion. The curved part of his backbone would be fixed into the proper position with a titanium rod and tiny screws. Dr. Haft would also take shavings of bone from Austin’s hip to lay over the spine and help it to fuse together correctly.

At Sanford Health, a new high-tech imaging system called an O-Arm could be used, both increasing safety and cutting the time involved in the complicated procedure. Dr. Haft said the nearly $1 million system, purchased by the Children’s Miracle Network, cut an hour to an hour and a half off of what would have been a five hour operation.

“It took three dimensional pictures of Austin’s spine while he was on the operating table,” said Dr. Haft. “The technology allowed us to place screws and other instruments within a millimeter, with absolute certainty about their location.”

Dr. Haft said the O-Arm is one of the most advanced pieces of equipment used in spinal surgery today. Sanford pediatric orthopedic patients are benefiting from smoother surgeries and quicker recovery time.

Austin planned on waiting until the end of football season to schedule his surgery, but moved the procedure up to Nov. 15 after another injury ended his season. The operation went well, without complications.

Swinging back

Soon, he was back attending school. In fact, he felt so good that his parents had to have several conversations with him about slowing down and giving his body enough time to properly heal.

“The hardest part was just staying still, not shooting hoops or something,” he says, with a sheepish grin.

By April, Austin had the clearance to get back to the sports he loves. He’s competing in both golf and track this year and looks forward to football next fall. A future involving a wheelchair is no longer part of his thoughts or plans.

“We’ll be on the golf course every day,” Austin says, pointing to his dad and older brother. “Nothing’s going to slow me down.”

Posted Date: May 2012