While it’s typical for kids to grow some over the summer, 12-year-old Burr Simpson gained four inches in just one day. On June 5, 2008, he underwent a six-and-a-half-hour spinal surgery to correct his scoliosis and kyphosis—two common spinal deformities. Scoliosis is a curvature of the spine and kyphosis is a rounded spine.
But Burr’s journey began long before this summer.
Burr and his parents Michael and Leigh Ann are not strangers to Dayton Children’s. Since Burr was born prematurely just over 12 years ago and transported to the Regional Level III Newborn Intensive Care Unit (NICU) at Dayton Children’s, Leigh Ann and Burr have become familiar faces around the hospital.
“Burr was in the NICU for four months and in the intermediate care unit for two months. Because of his prematurity, he had multiple problems,” Leigh Ann says. She remembers this as a “very scary” time. “This was our first baby and he had so many issues. There was no name for his condition.”
Leigh Ann and Michael, however, faced and dealt with Burr’s medical challenges. He has hydrocephalus (excess fluid on the brain), was on a ventilator for three weeks after birth and was oxygen-dependent for two more years, had G-tube and fundoplication surgery for his GERD (gastroesophageal reflux disease) and has been treated for eye problems. Over the years he has also been in speech, occupational and physical therapy, and had ear tube surgery twice. Burr’s most recent surgery involved Michael Albert, MD, a pediatric orthopedic surgeon at Dayton Children’s.
Burr Simpson spent one week in the hospital after spinal surgery, but walked out of the hospital standing tall—a full four inches taller. He also left with a scar the length of his back plus some rods and 21 screws in his spine. Burr benefited from a new surgical technique known as the universal clamp system, which has been in use approximately eight months.
“We are very impressed with the correction achieved for Burr using advanced spinal deformity techniques,” says Dr. Albert. Presurgery photos show a large hump on Burr’s back, which caused the 12-year-old to be extremely stooped. “The combination of using pedicle screws and universal clamps improves the correction and maintains stability of the spine. This technique also reduces complications from screws pulling out,” he explains.
Burr is the first patient in the country to have the universal clamps procedure to correct kyphosis.
According to Leigh Ann, Burr’s life before surgery presented a few inconveniences. “He did not often complain about his back hurting, but we had to take a pillow to school to put behind his back, since it hit the back of the chair. We bought large clothes so he could tuck his shirt in—a requirement at school.” Since the spinal surgery the pillow is gone, he’s wearing normal-sized clothes and, most importantly, “I notice he is breathing easier because he’s not stooped over,” Leigh Ann says.
On the day of Burr’s spinal surgery, Leigh Ann was at the hospital the entire day. “The nurse gave me updates every hour. She also made sure I was taking care of myself, asking me if I had enough to eat and drink. She was very helpful.”
Leigh Ann especially remembers the kindness of the food service team. “All the ladies were very nice. One lady who took Burr’s food order suggested he add a milkshake or a cookie and also told him which cake that day was especially good. They brought me extra ice without my having to ask. It seemed like they would do anything for you.”
Until October, Burr must continue to wear a brace for everything except sleeping. “He is doing very well and is working on building his endurance,” Leigh Ann says.
Despite the many challenges facing Burr, Leigh Ann and Michael are optimistic. “As long as Burr is growing, eating and progressing in a positive direction, we’re happy.”
Because of the number of specialists involved in Burr’s care over the years, Leigh Ann and her son feel right at home when they are at the hospital. When Leigh Ann and Burr were in the hospital the day before spinal surgery for testing and x-rays, they ran into a number of people they knew.
“His former NICU nurse and two of the respiratory therapists he knew stopped to talk to us. Seeing all these familiar faces really helped ease Burr’s worries about spinal surgery,” Leigh Ann says. She adds that it feels good to come to Dayton Children’s because they know so many people who all know Burr by name.
“When Burr was transported to the NICU 12 years ago, we didn’t know anything about Dayton Children’s, but from the first, we were impressed,” Leigh Ann says.
That favorable first impression has only grown stronger over the years. “We have gotten to know a lot of people who do very good work. The care at Dayton Children’s has always been top notch,” she says.
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