Innovative Surgeon Provides Mobility to Thousands with Cerebral Palsy

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lily pre-surgery

Lily Gordon wanted what many 6-year-old girls want–to wear sparkly princess shoes and to take dance classes–but cerebral palsy made her dreams seem impossible. Although her family lives in the United Kingdom, her parents elected to bring her to St. Louis to undergo a specialized surgery called selective dorsal rhizotomy that was perfected there by Dr. T. S. Park. They are one of many families that have traveled from all over the United States and from over forty countries to be treated by Dr. Park.

Cerebral palsy causes a loss of motor control and balance, and persistent muscle tightness that often leaves patients requiring a wheelchair for daily activities. During selective dorsal rhizotomy surgery, a small piece of bone from a single vertebra is removed to expose the spinal cord. Sensory nerves are isolated from the motor nerves and checked for their effect on spasticity using electrical and mechanical stimuli. Dr. Park cuts the abnormal sensory nerves, reducing or even eliminating, muscle spasticity. The surgery lasts a lifetime, and enables many CP patients to walk unaided.

Selective dorsal rhizotomy surgeries have been performed since the 1980′s, but Dr. Park, who has been performing this operation for 23 years, has perfected the procedure. He is the Shi H. Huang Professor of Neurological Surgery at the School of Medicine and the neurosurgeon-in-chief at the St. Louis Children’s Hospital. He refined the surgery to require that only a tiny portion of the spine (about a square inch) be opened. At first the medical community was skeptical of the procedure; time, as well as a 100% success rate in over 2,000 surgeries, eventually validated the technique. Dr. Park hopes that the procedure becomes mainstream and has trained other doctors from around the world on the technique.

But it was a Facebook group for the practice that garnered him the worldwide attention of cerebral palsy patients like the Gordons. Because the surgery is still considered experimental by many insurance companies, Lily’s family had to raise nearly $65,000 to pay for the operation and travel.

After months of fundraising, Joanne and husband David flew their daughter to St. Louis for the procedure. Now Lily is home and continuing physical therapy to strengthen her legs. She is walking and has even joined a theatre group where she is learning some dance steps. Lily has replaced her cumbersome leg splints with small ankle splints, allowing her to wear her sparkly princess shoes at last!

“It’s hard to believe it is 12 months later and it is all over and on her way to recovery. We are so glad we did it,” says her mother Joanne Gordon.

The family has donated the remainder of funds for Lily’s surgery to three other families who are hoping to travel to Dr. Park soon. And the surgeon himself recently visited the U.K. and was feted by more than 90 families and their children, whose lives he has transformed.

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