‘Mr. Adventurer’ never stopped
Robin Ward watched her young teenage son Jonathan dive into his grandparents’ pool and gasped. She hadn’t noticed the hump on his back before. Soon afterward, the teen from North East, Pa., was diagnosed with scoliosis, a sideways curvature of the spine.
“It never infringed on his activities – he was always very active, Mr. Adventurer, involved in Little League and outdoor soccer,” says Mrs. Ward. In high school, Jonathan joined the joined the marching band and swim team. He became an Eagle Scout. He played on the baseball team.
Trouble only surfaced occasionally – like when he swung the bat. Then his left side and arm felt weaker.
Jonathan’s doctor monitored his progress. His curve was becoming more and more severe. By the time he enrolled in Grove City College, “my left side had gotten significantly weaker, “ reports Jonathan, now 21 years old. “I had a significant amount of pain with it.”
Seeking the best for his son
Jonathan’s father, Tim Ward, MD, a family medicine and occupational medicine specialist, hadn’t wanted to expose his son to anesthesia and surgery. Yet he knew that the curve would only worsen. The search for a surgeon began.
Dr. Ward wanted the best – a pediatric spine surgeon with excellent outcomes in scoliosis surgery. The family met with surgeons at two other hospitals. It wasn’t until they saw Ryan Goodwin, MD, at Cleveland Clinic that things really clicked.
Taking time for his patients
Dr. Goodwin spent about an hour with the family, answering all of their questions about the procedure.
“I knew in checking Dr. Goodwin’s credentials that he had the skill and the training,” Dr. Ward recalls. “But he was also so open and receptive; he didn’t seem at all pressured or rushed.”
Mrs. Ward adds, “He could have seen 20 patients that day, but we felt like we were the only ones. He walked out of the room, and all three of us looked at each other and knew. It was the right timing – and the right person.”
Spinal fusion recommended
Posterior spinal fusion was recommended because Jonathan’s curve exceeded 45 to 50 degrees – and because, like most scoliosis patients, he was young and healthy, says Dr. Goodwin. Fusing the bones together would straighten his spine, and prevent heart and lung problems in adulthood.
On June 10, 2008, 19-year-old Jonathan underwent an approximately six-hour procedure. “We were scared to death about all the things that could go wrong as they got closer to the nerves and spinal cord,” says Dr. Ward. “But knowing that they had somebody at the front of Jonathan’s bed, monitoring his neurological and neuromuscular responses, was great.”
Jonathan sailed through surgery. He was soon up and walking. He needed no bracing, but had to avoid twisting, bending and lifting.
Patients can return to school about one month after scoliosis surgery. Physical activity may be restricted for up to one year. Jonathan was cleared by Dr. Goodwin after about 9 or 10 months. “Honestly, being able to carry my backpack full of books, rather than wheeling it around, was one of the biggest relief's,” says Jonathan.
Taking on flip turns
He did venture into the pool to swim during recovery. “It took a while, but he was ultimately able to do flip turns again,” says Dr. Goodwin. These turns require swimmers to roll up into a ball and push off the pool wall.
It’s a common misconception that kids who have a spinal fusion are unable to touch their toes – much less do a flip turn, he notes. But most forward bending is from the hips, so it’s not a problem.
Today, Jonathan feels much stronger, with little difference in strength between his right and left sides.
Freedom to do anything
For his mother, surgery has given Jonathan freedom. “Here is a young man who can go to college, play trombone in the marching band, spend a semester in Europe, play pickup soccer games, run,” says Mrs. Ward. “The world is his.”
Since the surgery, the young mechanical engineering major has grown interested in biomedical engineering – to be able to help other people with spinal disorders.
“Sometimes major events in a young person’s life can impact how they contribute to society. Dr. Goodwin made a big impression on Jonathan,” says Dr. Ward. “I would recommend him to anybody – and I have.”