Cora's Story: Spina Bifida

Cora is a spunky, high-energy kid who loves to “help” her mother, Paula, with anything and everything she can. But before Cora was even born, at just 20 weeks into the pregnancy, Paula discovered her daughter would have a complex disability called spina bifida. Spina bifida is a condition in which the spinal cord and its surrounding nerves don’t develop normally during the first month of pregnancy. It can cause several complications, such as—in Cora’s case— hydrocephalus, clubfeet and lower extremity issues.

“Cora is my little turkey. She is always on the go!”—Cora’s mother, Paula

Cora’s Treatments

In her first few weeks of life, Cora received a great deal of care to treat her condition. Fewer than 14 hours after Cora was born, she had surgery to repair the defect in her back caused by spina bifida. The procedure required Gillette pediatric neurosurgeon, Patrick Graupman, M.D., to place the exposed tissue and spinal cord back into a typical position to protect any functioning nerve tissue from injury and infection. One week later, Cora needed to have shunt surgery to treat hydrocephalus. The shunt drained excess cerebrospinal fluid from her brain to her stomach, where it could be reabsorbed by her body.

Only three days after her shunt surgery, Cora received the first of several sets of casts on her legs to better position her clubfeet. This treatment, called the Ponseti method, gradually improved the position of her feet through a series of plaster cast applications, with each cast straightening her feet a little more. After the Ponseti treatment, when Cora was 6 weeks old, she began wearing special foot braces called ankle-foot orthoses (AFOs) to support and protect her ankles and feet. At 18 months, Cora was using a walker to move around the house. But by 2, she needed straps and arm crutches (or “sticks,” as Cora calls them) to keep her legs straight enough to walk.

To help Cora move more independently, at 3, she underwent a major orthopedic procedure (called an osteotomy) at Gillette. This complex procedure, performed by Steven Koop, M.D., lengthened the tendons and muscles in her legs and feet, giving Cora the ability to occasionally walk without the use of crutches or straps.

“The surgery was a wonderful, wonderful thing.”—Paula

Cora’s Recovery and Results

After the osteotomy, Cora had casts on her legs for six weeks. Less than a month after her casts were removed, Cora took her first post-operative steps with a walker. Soon, she was walking using her sticks and braces again.

This quick recovery was also possible in part to the extensive physical therapy that Cora completed after her surgery. She worked closely with a Gillette physical therapist to strengthen the muscles in her legs and feet. Cora’s mother also worked with her at home, performing stretching exercises five times a day to help increase her flexibility. All of their hard work paid off. Because before long, not only was Cora taking steps using only her AFOs for the first time—but she also made progress much faster than anyone had anticipated.

“It’s amazing how much progress she’s made. We never thought she would walk without her sticks, but she’s doing it.” —Paula

Life After Treatment

Cora’s mom is happy to report that her walking abilities have improved tremendously. She continues to attend regular physical therapy and aquatic pool therapy at Gillette two to three times a week. Although she will most likely always need assistance with longer distances, Cora is now able to walk with minimal support, using only her AFOs. With each step she takes and with the progress Cora continues to make, her mother hopes that everyone sees one determined little girl.

“She’s a spitfire. She doesn’t let anything get in her way.” —Paula

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