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Rods in girl’s back lengthened magnetically without surgery

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KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- A little girl from Wellington, Kansas, has rods in her back, but she won't need repeated surgeries to lengthen those rods as she grows.  Seven-year-old Lexie Craig has her rods lengthened magnetically at Children's Mercy Hospital.

Lexie's spine was very curved.

"She complained a certain hip that would hurt the most from leaning on one side," said Amanda Craig, Lexie's mother.

The scoliosis resulted from a genetic disease, spinal muscular atrophy, that's left Lexie unable to walk.  In September, she had surgery to implant rods.

"It made me straighter," said Lexie.

She is much straighter now.  Previously, she would have needed surgery every six months to lengthen rods as she grew.

"Every time you open that wound up, their risk of infection goes up several fold," said Dr. John Anderson of Children's Mercy Hospital.

Dr. Anderson had a new option for Lexie; magnetic growing rods.  A device activates the rods to lengthen.  Before it's placed on her back, Lexie gets to press a button and hear the device whir.

Then she sits on her mom's lap.  Dr. Anderson uses a magnet to find the implanted ones.   Then he turns on the device that communicates with the magnets so that a bolt turns and a nut advances the extension part of each rod.

She'll have the procedure every three months.

"I'd like to get her to where she's at least 10 years old before she would have a definitive operation that would fuse her entire spine," said Dr. Anderson.

Lexie's mom says the magnetic lengthening sure beats the stress of surgery.

"Easy.  I mean, I was under no stress.  It was awesome," said Craig.

Children's Mercy is one of the first 20 hospitals in the country to use the magnetic growing rods.  They're for children age’s two to 10, with scoliosis.  Lexie's rods will be lengthened about an eighth of an inch each time.