Cassie Merrill showed signs of problems early on in her life. She did not begin sitting up on her own at six months like most babies do, instead she crawled on the floor, dragging her legs behind her. When she did begin to walk, the tension in her calf muscles caused her to walk on her toes. Her balance and posture was perpetually off, and she needed a walker for several years.
Cassie was the first person to undergo a dorsal rhizotomy at the Children’s hospital of Illinois. The procedure involves cutting nerve fibers that runn through the spinal cord to reduce spasticity. Tension is relieved in the legs and a patient’s ability to walk is dramatically increased.
Physicians go through nerve rootlets in these procedures and stimulate each one with electricity. They are able to identify which of these rootlets cause serious spasticity problems, which are severed to relieve muscle pain. The operation is a tough one and will lead to a painful recovery. Many of the patients will have to spend four to six weeks in the hospital afterwards, followed by several months of physical therapy.
The results of this procedure ARE promising, however. A study recently published in the journal BMC Pediatrics looked at the dorsal rhizotomies of 35 different children five years later and muscle tone was reduced and continued to be throughout the years.
Cassie’s parents saw a difference right away after her surgery and they are now much more optimistic about the future.