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Innovation and Research

Promise Found: Peyton’s Halo-Gravity Traction Journey

Peyton and Witten


Having the opportunity to view the world upright and the ability to stand straight is something that most of us take for granted. Peyton Berkland’s family would tell you how the ability to be upright transformed their and their daughter’s view of the world.

Peyton, 9, was born prematurely and has had a medically complex childhood. She’s had more than 20 surgical procedures, numerous lengthy rehabilitation stays, and has been a patient at Gillette Children’s Specialty Healthcare for most of her life.

Peyton and her family have endured more than most would in a lifetime and have done so resiliently, optimistically, and with grace.

When Peyton’s right lung collapsed due to the progression of her congenital scoliosis, her parents knew it was time for a surgical procedure that they hoped would be transformational, if successful. But the stakes were high and even if everything went perfectly, there would still be a hard road to travel.

“We’d done everything within our control to push the surgery she needed as far down the road as possible. We knew it was going to be tough and the longer we waited, the more likely we could see a successful outcome,” Peyton's mother, Leah recounts. “Peyton wore a hard body brace 24 hours a day for three years in addition to receiving extensive therapy, but Peyton’s spinal curvature continued to worsen. When her lung collapsed and other internal organs were affected, next steps were needed and soon. Luckily, we had been building relationships with Gillette and knew right where our next turn in the road would begin.”

Halo-Gravity Traction Surgery

Joseph Perra, MD, a spine specialist and head of the Spine team at Gillette, had seen Peyton periodically as they monitored the progression of her scoliosis. When the time for surgery became unavoidable, Perra recommended Halo-Gravity Traction surgery, a procedure that is used to treat severe scoliosis.

“We’d been observing Peyton’s spinal curvature for some time and things were not trending in the direction we wanted them to be,” Perra says. “We had exhausted all of our other options. I know that it was hard for Peyton’s parents to hear that we needed to take these steps, but once they got to that point, they were all-in. It was nothing but, ‘Let’s get this done and help her heal.’”

Halo-Gravity Traction is a multi-stage process where a surgery is performed to attach a metal ring to a child’s skull using small metal pins. Then, using a pulley system over a period of weeks, weights are applied to gradually straighten a child’s spine. This process typically lasts 1-2 months and culminates in spinal fusion surgery.

P's recovery

“We had a lot of trust in Dr. Perra and the staff at Gillette. Peyton’s initial surgery went well beyond anyone’s expectations, but her recovery took time,” Leah says. “All in all, including her hospital recovery from spinal fusion, we spent roughly 100 inpatient days at Gillette. As always, the medical staff was fantastic, but 100 days of hospital life is an accomplishment by itself. Although Gillette began to feel like more of a home than our actual home, when we were ready, we were happy to part ways for a while.”

Today

Peyton with her father Michael, her brother Whitten and Leah in 2019


Peyton’s spinal curvature at the time of her surgery exceeded 120 degrees. Now, it’s 35.

Upon returning home, Peyton had to re-learn many things—breathing and walking among them. During the process of straightening her spine, she'd grown four inches, but in the months that followed, the Berklands began to notice other changes, too.

"We started to see our daughter grow in ways we wouldn’t have believed to be possible. She was able to see us from an upright view for the first time in many years. Her world became clearer and her actions followed. She could ride a bike, take a walk, share a story, or simply go to the bathroom by herself," Leah says. "All of this was new for us. It was like opening a present each day. Like what joyful Peyton surprise would we unwrap today? The progression was remarkable to see and felt like we were given a miracle.”

Peyton is now two years out from her surgery and continuing to prosper. Like everyone, the Berklands have changed some of their routines due to COVID-19, but as Leah says, “After you live in a hospital for 100 days, nothing seems impossible to fight and especially if you have Gillette as a partner by your side”.

Peyton has been leveraging virtual therapy appointments with Gillette providers during this time and loving the support from home.

The only problem with not being at Gillette in person was that Peyton missed the therapy dogs, so the Berklands brought their new dog, Lulu, home in August of 2019. Overall, it sounds like things are going well.

Dr. Perra continues to monitor Peyton’s progress periodically and we’ll give him the final word.

“As a surgeon, you’re there to try to help improve your patients’ overall quality of life. For Peyton that meant improving the way her spine was putting a strain on her overall posture,” Perra says. “What you can’t always know or anticipate, is the effect that change will have on their personality. I think anyone who knew Peyton knows that this changed her ability to be interactive, communicative and develop in a transformational way that none of us could’ve hoped to expect. Her level of improvement was truly miraculous. Seeing Peyton where she is today; it’s one of the most gratifying things that I’ve had the privilege of being a part of in the past decade.”


HarrietPeyton and her father, Michael, walking up the steps of the Lake Harriet Bandshell in Minneapolis, Minnesota

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