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Michael Breathes Easier After Care at Shriners Children's Lexington

Halo traction and spinal fusion surgery helped stabilize Michael's spine.

Michael came to Shriners Children’s Lexington in critical condition. He was 15, and his severe case of scoliosis had been left untreated for about three years.

His adoptive parents, who had just gained custody, were desperate to find him help.

Michael’s mom, Laura, said his extreme spine curvature had reached 115 degrees and was visible externally.

“His torso was beginning to turn and his shoulders were uneven,” she said.

Most critically, though, Michael’s curve was causing life-threatening breathing issues as his lung capacity had been diminished by the curve’s pressure on his lungs.

“He was malnourished because he was using so much energy and burning so many calories just trying to breathe,” his dad, Edward, said.

The family was referred to Shriners Children’s Lexington by a relative who is a Shriners International noble and a driver who transported children to appointments at Shriners Children’s.

“They told me at my first appointment that if I didn’t treat my scoliosis right away, I might not make it to 16,” Michael said.

Shriners has given us a lot of peace. We felt it as soon as we walked in the doors. We knew we were cared for.
Laura, Michael's mom

Michael almost immediately underwent six weeks of halo traction treatment as an inpatient at UK HealthCare’s Kentucky Children’s Hospital, which is Shriners Children’s Lexington’s academic partner. He also needed a feeding tube to aid in improving his weight and nourishment.

Halo traction is usually the first step in correcting severe scoliosis. The treatment involves attaching a metal ring that surrounds the head — called a halo — to a pulley system to carefully pull a patient’s head and spine upward, applying a slow stretch. The stretching reduces the risk of damaging the nerves or soft tissues that surround and support the spine during corrective surgery.

After the halo traction, Michael's doctor, Vincent Prusick, M.D., performed spinal fusion surgery to permanently stabilize his spine. At his most recent appointment, in which Michael, now 18, “graduated” from Shriners Children’s care, his spine curve was just 34 degrees.

Michael said he was up walking just one day after his surgery, and now he is living his life to the fullest. He’s a junior in high school, a volunteer firefighter and a Sheriff’s Explorer. He even sings in a choir, something that would have been impossible for the kid who could barely breathe before treatment, he said.

Michael’s goals for the future are to graduate high school and apply to be a correctional officer with his local sheriff’s department. He would like to study history in college, and looks forward to getting married and starting a family of his own one day.

“Michael was so brave through everything,” Laura said. “We are so proud of him and we are so thankful for Shriners. None of what he does would be possible without this treatment, but the honest truth is that he wouldn’t be here today if it weren’t for the care he received here.”

Laura and Edward said the process of correcting Michael’s spine was difficult for the whole family, but Shriners Children’s offered them something special during a stressful time.

“It’s hard to put into words,” Laura said. “Shriners has given us a lot of peace. We felt it as soon as we walked in the doors. We knew we were cared for. Everyone here has offered us love, kindness and compassion for our whole family.”

before and after torso X-ray

Before and after X-rays of Michael's spine

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