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Healthwatch 16: Robotics improve spinal surgery precision

A teenager from Luzerne County is recovering from surgery to fix an issue she didn't even know she had until a routine screening.

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

Timirah Norwood, 17, didn't know she had it until a routine doctor's check a few years back.

"I was told I was walking to the side. I didn't really notice it. But I used to get low back pain, but that was it. It didn't really hurt bad," Timirah recalled.

"Once she started fifth grade, the physician that comes to the school to check them out noticed that she had a curve in her spine. And as years went by, that did progress," said Takeiya Norwood, her mom,

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

"Just the thought of having spinal surgery, yeah, I cried a few times about it!"

Dr. Meagan Fernandez is a pediatric orthopedic surgeon with Geisinger. She showed us a scan of what scoliosis looks like. She also did Timirah's surgery last fall.

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

"I tell patients sometimes that I've done their surgery before we get to the operating room," Dr. Fernandez said. "it definitely increases the precision and accuracy, and therefore the safety, of everything I do with these pediatric deformity cases."

Screws and rods are inserted 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 physical therapy soon.

"Timirah is great. She has a really positive outlook. She is a very optimistic, motivated teenager."

Dr. Fernandez says scoliosis affects boys and girls the same, but she notes that girls are eight times more likely to progress to a point at which they'd need surgical intervention.

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