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Gillette Care for Scoliosis and Spine Issues Makes a Splash

Owen Earl makes a splash in the pool after MAGEC Rod surgery at Gillette Children's. 

Owen Earl makes a splash in the pool after MAGEC Rod surgery at Gillette Children's. 

The story of Owen Earl’s recovery from MAGEC Rod surgery at Gillette Children's is one of the most popular stories we’ve posted on our Gillette Stories site. Maybe it’s Owen’s athletic energy as he swims in the pool, maybe it’s the great photographs, or maybe, parents considering similar surgery for their own children find inspiration in Owen’s story. Whatever the reason, we’re delighted to get an update from the Earl family.

Today, Owen is 12 years-old and although his interest in swimming has waned a bit, his dad, Mike, reports Owen is now active in theatre. This past summer he was in a community theatre production of “Fiddler on the Roof.” 

Owen still regularly meets with Gillette orthopedic surgeon, Tenner Guillaume, MD for adjustments to his MAGEC rods. He’s had 18 adjustments to lengthen the rods over the past 5 years. “Once you go through the initial surgery for MAGEC rods,” Mike says, “it’s a very smooth process. I would highly recommend MAGEC rods to any parent looking to get good care for their child’s spine and scoliosis.”

Be prepared to get splashed if you spend time with Owen Earl. According to his parents, the 8-year-old from Cambridge, Minnesota is happiest when he’s in the water.

Swimming wasn’t always joyful or comfortable for Owen due to scoliosis, a curvature of his spine, that was diagnosed when he was 1 year old.

“We brought him to the emergency room because he was coughing and had a high fever,” Owen’s dad, Mike, recalls. “They took an x-ray of his lungs and said he had pneumonia and then asked what we were doing about the curve in his back. This was a total surprise to us,” Mike says.

The initial hospital referred the Earl family to Gillette Children’s. “We just lucked out and got to come to the best children’s hospital for Owen’s condition,” Mike marvels.

A team of Gillette specialists confirmed the scoliosis diagnosis and worked with the Earls to craft a customized treatment plan for Owen. “They put Owen in casts at first,” Mike recalls. “Next came bracing.” The brace was not easy for Owen because it interfered with his swimming.

“We had to get him in and out of the brace when he went in the pool,” Mike says. “When he came out of the water we had to make sure his skin was totally dry or else he could get a rash from the brace. Plus, once he entered kindergarten we thought it would be best to get Owen out of the brace.”

Owen and his surgeon, Tenner Guillaume, MD, walk down the hallways at Gillette Children's. The two have a close relationship developed over many years. 

Owen and his surgeon, Tenner Guillaume, MD, have a close relationship developed over many years. 

MAGEC Rods are the answer

Gillette orthopedic surgeon, Tenner Guillaume, MD, suggested Owen undergo surgery using magnetically driven growing rods known as MAGEC rods.  In March 2016, Guillaume planted two rods in Owen’s back to straighten his spine. Following the surgery, the system uses magnets to lengthen the rods as Owen grows. The magnets allow Owen to avoid one of the major drawbacks of a traditional rod system—having surgery every three to six months to adjust the implanted rods.

“We love Gillette! Dr. Guillaume has great relationship with Owen,” Mike says. “We feel lucky every time we come here.”

Gillette Children's is internationally recognized for treating pediatric spine conditions, complex congenital abnormalities, and high-grade spondylolisthesis. 

Gillette performs 80% of spinal fusion procedures in Minnesota and 65% of spine fusions to correct scoliosis. We also perform 63% of neurosurgery spinal procedures in the state.

Our providers were the first in the region to treat early-onset scoliosis with magnetically driven growing rods. This technology allows us to deliver a less invasive treatment and eliminates the need for frequent surgeries to straighten the spine.

We actively conduct spine research and are focused on long-term outcomes in patients who have idiopathic scoliosis and on scoliosis associated with cerebral palsy, muscular dystrophy and other neuromuscular conditions. 

“Our overall volume lends us a degree of clinical expertise that isn’t seen in other institutions in the region or the state.”--Tenner Guillaume, MD, spine surgeon at Gillette.

Owen is now 12 years-old and is now active in theatre. This photo collage shows him in a community theatre production of “Fiddler on the Roof.” Recently, he was named

Owen is 12 years-old and was recently named "Student of the Month" at his school. This past summer he was in a community theatre production of “Fiddler on the Roof.” Owen also enjoys swimming with his brother and sister. 

Owen Continues to Flourish

Mike Earl continues to be grateful for the care Owen receives at Gillette and says, “Gillette is really like a second family to us. We’ve been coming here for many years and the staff is always friendly and encouraging.”

Owen is getting ready to take the next step in his spine care. He’s working with Dr. Guillaume to schedule spinal fusion surgery in the summer of 2022.  The Earl family is optimistic about the surgery. “Finally getting the rods out will be good,” Mike says. “Owen has had these same rods in for more than 5 years. Because of the MAGEC rods we’ve been spared 18 surgeries. The rod adjustments are  done with a magnet and are not invasive. We now just come in twice a year so Dr. Guillaume can lengthen the rods as Owen grows.”

Mike Earl highly recommends the MAGEC rod procedure if a child’s medical team suggests it. “One thing I didn’t really think about at first was the fact that the rods are hidden in Owen spine. This means unless he tells someone he has a spine issue—no one knows. This lets Owen be treated just like any kids. That’s what parents want—for their child to be treated as a kid.”

More information and scoliosis support can be found in the Scoliosis Resource Group - Gillette Children's.