Scoliosis Treatment Keeps Teen in the Game

Phoenix-native Rei Karki serves a tennis ball after successful minimally invasive spinal surgery at Cohen Children's Medical Center.
Rei quickly returned to training after scoliosis treatment at Cohen Children's.

Rei Karki, 14, is serious about tennis. The Phoenix, AZ, resident was competing and winning numerous United States Tennis Association tournaments — until scoliosis began to take a toll on his body four years ago.

Rei began tiring easily and having serious back pain, so his parents looked for solutions. Local doctors offered surgery that would require six to 12 months of recovery, which would short-circuit Rei’s dream of playing in the US Open Men’s Final.

Online research led them to the Billie and George Ross Center for Advanced Pediatric Orthopedics and Minimally Invasive Spinal Surgery. Ross Center specialists performed minimally invasive scoliosis surgery on another young patient who played tennis, and that player returned to the game in about four weeks.

“The Karki family reached out to us because we are one of the only children’s hospitals in the US to provide minimally invasive spinal surgery,” said Vishal Sarwahi, MD, chief of pediatric orthopedics at Cohen Children’s Medical Center. “Our techniques result in fewer incisions and reduced blood loss, plus more muscle preservation and faster recovery times. Patients can typically go home in less than a week, and recovery takes a few weeks — not months.”

The Karki family traveled to New York for Rei’s surgery in October 2015. The teen made a quick recovery, returning to the court in January. He is currently the No. 3 ranked player on his high school team. He has won almost all of his matches, impressive given that he’s the only freshman on the team.

“Rei recovered from surgery quite fast,” said Christopher Karki, Rei’s father. “Getting back out on the courts helped him rebuild his endurance and muscles quickly. The pain he often experienced in his back before surgery has gone away and his posture is terrific. His quality of life and confidence have improved tremendously.”

Not Your Standard X-Ray

Frequent X-rays are par for the course for kids like Rei with scoliosis and certain other conditions. The images are helpful for monitoring health long-term, but parents may be concerned about their child’s radiation exposure.

Quick, three-dimensional X-rays with results similar to a CT (computed tomography) scan address those concerns. The new EOS X-ray system provides these patient benefits at the Ross Center.

“The EOS can take an X-ray in six seconds, using the lowest effective radiation dosage to minimize exposure,” Dr. Sarwahi said. He added that the EOS emits 1/30th the radiation of a traditional X-ray unit. “We are one of only about 30 children’s hospitals in the country providing this technology.”

Developed by a Nobel Peace Prize winner, the EOS is just one enhancement to the recently expanded Ross Center. The center helps young people with everything from spinal deformities to a sprained ankle. At more than 7,500 square feet, the facility has allowed a staff expansion with plenty of space for multiple exam rooms and leading-edge diagnostic and treatment tools to help kids get back into the swing of things.

“The Ross Center not only gives families more access to specialists, but also offers same-day and next-day appointments — a huge advantage for busy parents,” said Nick Greco, senior administrative director for Cohen Children’s Medical Center.

Read the spring 2016 issue of Kids First.

Focus onHealth TV

Watch Focus onHealth, Northwell Health's TV show. It's the healthy way to stay informed!