Bespoke medicine has long been practised at Hadassah Hospital. It comes from a tradition where the patient is the focus of the medical and nursing staff; where successful medical outcomes can require more than the traditional approach.

This happened recently at Hadassah when spine specialists used an innovative, minimally invasive approach to correct scoliosis in Elia, a 14-year-old boy with Down syndrome.

“The doctors thought ‘outside the box’ and my son is now walking with a straight back,” says his relieved mother.  It sounds simple, but with the challenges brought by Elia’s special needs, it was anything but.

Scoliosis is a three-dimensional distortion of the spine. The deformities can be severe or mild, and so can the treatment. The traditional method is to have the patient wear a corset that puts pressure on the spine to correct it.  Elia couldn’t tolerate the corset and would continually remove it, despite repeated requests by his parents and medical staff.  

His scoliosis began in adolescence, and the condition deteriorated as time passed.  It got so bad that as he progressed to his teenage years, Elia was walking with a 50-degree tilt to the side.  He required major surgery.

“We had to think about an effective treatment, making sure that Elia’s pain level would be as low as possible,” explains Hadassah spine specialist Dr. Josh Schroeder.

“It was very difficult to estimate the extent of Elia’s pain because he does not communicate like other children.”

After consulting with Prof. Leon Kaplan, head of Hadassah’s Spine Surgery Unit, and experts from around the world, the Hadassah surgical team came up with an idea for a different, innovative treatment.

“Most of the surgeries for correction of scoliosis are performed by means of an incision along the back, an invasive procedure requiring a long recovery time,” says Dr. Schroeder. “In Elia’s case, we chose a less invasive approach, including partial use of the Israeli mini-robot invented by Mazor Robotics.”

The Mazor robot system maximizes precision placement and safety.

Dr. Schroeder explains, “We made a small incision in his back, through which we installed tiny screws in the spine to stabilize the vertebrae and, in this way, straighten the spine. We minimized the risk of bleeding, infection, and pain. Recovery time was reduced by almost half that required in regular surgery, and, of course, the result is more aesthetic.”

Elia left the operating room within two and a half hours and after three days he was home. 

Ron Finkel AM, President of Hadassah Australia confirmed that Elia’s surgery was the first time the approach has been used in Israel.

“It is a breakthrough in the treatment of children with special needs, especially those who cannot communicate. Hadassah found a way to improve the quality of life of these children and minimise the pain associated with such treatments,” he said.

“This has obviously been an enormous relief for the family.”