Cerebral Palsy is an injury typically resulting from a lack of oxygen to the brain during the birth. Sadly this can be debilitating. As this is usually a condition that is preventable with proper medical care, it can frustrate those who are impacted. However, new medical research has identified that there may be positive progress in the treatment of Cerebral Palsy.
Walking is often not a possibility for those affected with Cerebral Palsy. Because of the extensive nerve damage most who suffer from this condition will be confined to a wheelchair for life. However, a new experimental surgery could affect the ability to walk.
A study conducted with 100 Canadian patients affected with Cerebral Palsy included a Cape Breton woman by the name of Alyssa MacLeod. Now 22, she was only 3 years old at the time of her first surgery. One surgery, conducted in 1994, was a selective dorsal rhizotomy which involved snipping the unused nerves along the spinal cord. The surgeon stimulates the nerves along the spinal cord, and those that are not functioning are removed. Shriner’s Hospital in Montreal is where the study is being conducted. Neurosurgeon Dr. Jean Pierre Farmer explained that the “goal of the operation is not just to reduce the spasticity but also to improve the gait, so you want to preserve as much of the good tone and eliminate the bad tone if you want in a simplistic way”. Farmer is the author of the experimental study.
The study consisted of tracking 100 Canadians affected with Cerebral Palsy and following their progress from childhood to adulthood. The evolution included several surgeries. Alyssa MacLeod, for example, had 47 surgeries throughout the 20 year study. For Alyssa, the result of the numerous surgeries is the ability to walk. She credits her rhizotomy in 1994 with her ability to walk, saying: “If I didn’t have that surgery chances are I would still be in a wheelchair and I wouldn’t be able to walk. I credit Dr. Farmer and that particular surgery for helping me be able to walk as well as I do. I mean, I don’t walk perfect, but I definitely walk a lot better than I would have if I didn’t have the surgery”.
This life changing experience of Alyssa MacLeod has encouraged her to work hard and become a doctor who can contribute to this type of neuroscience work. The surgery has improved all aspects of her life and left her able to be fully independent, which is a rarity for those suffering from Cerebral Palsy. Currently she is an ambassador for the Shriner’s hospital and working towards a Bachelor degree in Science.
Although, this story is a motivational one, there are many people affected with Cerebral Palsy who have not benefited from this treatment. The consequences are less independence and more cost of care and medical expenses. However, the study demonstrates a promising future for Cerebral Palsy healthcare.