A 10-year-old boy in the United Kingdom who suffers with cerebral palsy was recently able to complete a triathlon to raise money for another child with cerebral palsy.
The child, Jack, was formerly almost completely unable to move, having to crawl around on his hands and knees and certainly being in no condition to run a triathlon. Thanks to a surgical procedure called dorsal rhizotomy, he enjoys much better mobility in his legs and the rest of his body.
The Triathlon Events
The triathlon included all the usual events: bicycling, running and swimming. Jack was able to complete all of them and to raise over 800 pounds for the girl he decided to help. Not too long ago, completing any of these events would’ve been impossible for Jack but, because of how the surgery works, his symptoms are reduced enough that they can perform such feats of athleticism.
People who suffer with cerebral palsy endure their symptoms due to a brain injury. Because it is a brain injury that causes the symptoms, there is no possibility of a “cure” unless science develops a way to regenerate damaged brain tissue. Modern medicine is precise and advanced enough, however, to allow surgeons to perform very selective operations on the nervous system, which is how Jack was given relief from many of his symptoms.
Dorsal Rhizotomy Procedure
The dorsal rhizotomy procedure actually severs nerves in the spinal cord. Surgeons target the nerves that send impulses to the legs that result in paralysis. In many ways, this can be understood using the metaphor of any other electrical system. One part of that system – the nervous system, in this case – has a shorted out connection and the surgeon simply goes in and snips that connection so that the muscles can function normally. While it may be simple in the metaphorical sense, it’s certainly not a simple procedure, nor is it an inexpensive one.
Being in the United Kingdom, Jack’s parents may not have had to worry about the cost of the surgery so much. For families in the United States, the cost of these surgeries is sometimes so prohibitive that they may not be a realistic opportunity.
In cases where physician negligence contributed to the cerebral palsy injury, parents sometimes end up suing for compensation to pay for procedures such as dorsal rhizotomy surgery.