School of Medicine

‘Future we only dreamed of’

Esme “Ezzy” Hodge and her parents traveled from Bristol, U.K., for selective dorsal rhizotomy surgery with neurosurgeon T.S. Park, MD.

A renowned surgeon is restoring mobility in children with cerebral palsy

From WashU’s Outlook Magazine

As a baby, Alexa Reed seemed to be hitting all her developmental milestones. When it came time to walk, however, she started having trouble. Her right foot turned inward and she had a tendency to rise up on her tiptoes.

“For two years I asked her pediatrician if this was normal and if I should do something to fix it,” said Amy, Alexa’s mom. “We were told that she would grow out of it and that no intervention was needed aside from reminding her to walk flat-footed.”

Over time, Alexa’s muscles got tighter, she fell down frequently and increasingly relied on toe-walking. Wearing braces for several years and undergoing weekly physical therapy to stretch her tight legs did not improve the situation.

At nearly 4 years of age, Alexa finally received a definitive diagnosis: spastic diplegic cerebral palsy (CP), a chronic neuromuscular disorder that causes tightness and spasms in the extremities. Most commonly caused by lack of oxygen and early damage to the brain, spastic CP accounts for almost 80 percent of CP cases.

Soon after Alexa’s diagnosis, the Reeds moved from Los Angeles to St. Louis for a new job and to be closer to family — not realizing that Washington University Medical Campus is home to T.S. Park, MD, a world-renowned, uniquely qualified pediatric neurosurgeon who specializes in treating spastic CP.

Post-surgery, Alexa, now 9, has full function and enjoys hiking, soccer and hanging out with friends. In Alexa and in thousands of other kids worldwide, Park has restored the ability to walk.

Not your average neurosurgeon

Park, the Shi H. Huang professor of neurosurgery, is a pioneer in the use of selective dorsal rhizotomy (SDR), a spinal surgery that he performs at St. Louis Children’s Hospital. In the procedure, Park severs the nerves that cause spasticity. Park has been performing SDR for 30 years, treating more than 3,700 patients from 47 states and 73 countries. Of those cases, only nine have ever required readmission (four for wound infections, five with spinal fluid leaks). Amy found out about Park from an in-home physical therapist.

“It was glaringly clear that our move from Los Angeles back home to St. Louis was somewhat serendipitous,” Amy said. “We were exactly where we needed to be to have the most skilled and successful surgeon on the planet be the one to end the grasp that spasticity had on our daughter for good, and give her a future we had only dreamed of.”

Born in Bristol, U.K., Esme, or Ezzy (as she likes to be called) Hodge, had to come a bit farther for help. Ezzy’s parents noticed their baby daughter wouldn’t reach up for a cuddle and had trouble balancing independently. An MRI at age 2 revealed Ezzy had suffered a brain injury during birth. Like Alexa, she was diagnosed with spastic diplegic CP.

“We were told she would never walk,” said Ezzy’s mom, Angela. “As parents we were truly devastated.”

Angela found Park’s name during an online search for potential treatments. “I knew then I would do whatever it took to get Ezzy this amazing surgery and prayed Dr. Park would say yes to helping our little girl, as he was her only chance,” Angela said.

In the initial patient evaluation, Park’s team tells the family what type of outcome to expect: Will the child walk independently, or with crutches or a walker? Will the child be able to run and jump?

“I’m fairly sure we are the only ones who can give such a precise prediction,” Park said. “Our prediction rate is very high — 85 percent correct.”

  Read more at Outlook Magazine