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Pioneering Spine Surgery at Gillette Helps Joshua Ride a Bike

When Joshua Reis leans forward and pumps the pedals on his bike, the look on his face is so intent, you wonder what he’s thinking. “Biking isn’t really hard,” the 10-year-old says, “It’s easy.”

But to get here to this sunny afternoon at a park near his home, Joshua had to travel more than 5,000 miles and undergo a complicated medical procedure most surgeons have never attempted.

The road to family—and good health

Joshua was born with congenital scoliosis, which causes abnormal rotation and side-to-side curvature of the spine. He also has diminished lung capacity caused by restrictive lung disease and thoracic insufficiency syndrome—conditions both related to scoliosis.

Joshua spent his first five years in an orphanage in Ukraine. Later, he was moved to a school for children who have disabilities. On Nov. 30, 2013, however, Julie and Bob Reis changed his life—and their own—forever. They adopted Joshua and brought him home to their family in Minnesota.

Three days after the family returned to Minnesota, they took Joshua to see Tenner Guillaume, MD, an orthopedic surgeon at Gillette Children’s who specializes in spine surgery.After examining Joshua, Tenner Guillaume, MD, recommended a pioneering scoliosis treatment.

Guillaume worked with Joshua and his family to form a customized treatment plan for Joshua. During the next 33 days, the family met with Gillette specialists from pulmonology, cardiology, neurosurgery, radiology and imaging—all intent on working together to give Joshua the best life possible.

Groundbreaking surgery on the horizon

Joshua’s treatment plan included several surgeries, including a pioneering procedure to implant magnetically driven growing rods. The implanted rods act as internal braces to keep the spine from curving. They also expand to allow for normal skeletal growth.

“The rods are an amazing option for Joshua,” Julie Reis says. “His spine can keep growing without continuing to curve.”

The family scheduled Joshua’s MAGEC® rod implantation surgery for August 2014. In the weeks leading up to his surgery, Joshua wanted to know about every aspect of the procedure. “On the day of surgery, Joshua’s courage and determination shone through,” she recalls. “He insisted on walking in front of the bed to the operating room, rather than being wheeled in on the bed.”

Joseph Perra, MD, another Gillette spine surgeon, joined Guillaume in the operating room. Working together, they placed two magnetically driven growing rods, freed some of Joshua’s fused ribs, and restructured his right shoulder.Joshua, his parents and siblings.

With treatment, a full childhood

Guillaume lengthens the rods during outpatient visits using a remote controller in a procedure that lasts just a few minutes. Over time, these lengthening procedures will help Joshua grow taller. Joshua’s medical team will track the progression of his curve throughout his childhood using X-rays.

“He’s standing so much straighter,” reports Reis. “He’s able to walk much better and do more things. And he’s determined to live life to the fullest.”

Editor's note: Watch a video about Joshua to hear more about his journey. 

Photos (from top): Joshua enjoys riding his bike; Joshua with his surgeon, Tenner Guillaume, MD; Joshua with his parents and siblings.