Specialized surgery for cerebral palsy offered in Canada

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Doctors at Montreal’s Shriners and Children’s hospitals are spreading the word that a specialized surgery for cerebral palsy patients that can help relieve some of the spasticity of the condition is offered in Canada.

Dr. Jean-Pierre Farmer, the chief of neurosurgery at Montreal’s Children’s Hospital, is one of the few doctors in Canada who can perform the surgery, which is called selective dorsal rhizotomy, or SDR.

The procedure can help alleviate some of the symptoms of cerebral palsy, particularly the muscle stiffness that can lead to chronic pain, exhaustion, and disability.

Cerebral palsy affects roughly 2.5 out of every 1,000 babies born in Canada every year, and is caused by abnormal brain development or a brain injury during pregnancy or birth. The spasticity caused by CP makes it difficult or impossible for children to move their limbs in isolation. Those who do learn to walk often do so on their tiptoes with their knees close together so that they need a wheelchair or braces to walk.

The SDR procedure involves exposing the nerves in the spinal column and cutting those nerve fibres that cause muscle tightness using electrical pulses. The nerves that properly control movement are left intact.

If all goes well, and all the affected fibres are cut, it can be possible for children with CP to learn to walk independently.

Last month, an Ontario preschooler with cerebral palsy made headlines when her local community came together to fundraise the $140,000 needed to send the girl to a U.S. hospital for the surgery. Several other families in Canada are fighting with their provincial health authorities to offer funding for them to go the U.S. for the surgery as well.

But Farmer wants to spread the word that the surgery is offered in Canada: in Montreal at his hospital; as well as in Vancouver.

Five-year-old Raquel Pilon-Guerra, of Toronto, recently travelled to Montreal Children’s Hospital for the surgery. Her parents initially looked at going to the United States but upon discovering that SDR could be performed in Montreal, they brought their daughter in for an assessment.

Pilon-Guerra was found to be a good candidate for the surgery, and the Ontario Health Board agreed to cover the cost.

Dr. Farmer says the surgery went well, and though Raquel has several months of physiotherapy ahead of her, her mother Patricia Guerra, says they are already seeing progress. Raquel has more mobility and can now ride a modified bicycle.

“It’s touching, because we definitely feel that… this is going to change her life and we already see it,” he told CTV Montreal.

With a report from CTV Montreal’s Cindy Sherwin

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