Healthwatch 16: Robotics improve the precision of spine surgery

A Luzerne County teen is recovering from surgery to fix a problem she didn’t even know she had until a routine checkup.

Scoliosis is a disease often discovered in childhood in which the spine is curved.

Timirah Norwood, 17, didn’t know she had it until a routine check-up with the doctor several years ago.

“I was told to walk to the side. I didn’t really notice it. But I used to have back pain, but it was. It didn’t really hurt,” Timirah recalls.

“When she was in fifth grade, the doctor who came to school to examine her noticed that she had a curve in her spine.

Takeiya was told that Timirah had scoliosis and that surgery would eventually be the best option.

“Just the thought of spinal surgery, yes, I cried a few times about it!”

Dr. Meagan Fernandez is a children’s orthopedist at Geisinger. She showed us a scan of what scoliosis looks like. She also performed Timirah’s surgery last fall.

Robotic guidance helped her plan the procedure before it even started.

“I sometimes tell patients that I did their surgery before we got into the operating room,” said Dr. Fernandez. “It definitely increases the precision and accuracy, and therefore the safety, of anything I do with these pediatric deformities.”

Screws and rods are used to straighten the spine. Ultimately, the bone fuses in the correct position.

Dr. Fernandez says Timirah has recovered well since last October and will start physiotherapy soon.

“Timirah is great. She has a really positive attitude. She is a very optimistic, motivated teenager.”

Dr. Fernandez says scoliosis affects boys and girls equally, but notes that girls are eight times more likely to progress to a point where they need surgery.

If you have any questions, your family doctor may be able to help.