Katelyn beats scoliosis with new innovative surgery

Katelyn Miller: I've always just been a super active person. I was really involved in competitive sports growing up, pretty much all year around.

Laura Miller: Her schedule was extremely rigorous. There are times where she would practice six days a week. It was really tricky to get her to slow down.

Katelyn Miller: It was junior year and I was just like struggling with all the back pain, worse than any kind of like minor injury I ever really felt before. So I went into a doctor, I got x-rays and I just remember like looking at the X-ray and I was like, the spine is supposed to be in a straight line and it was just all over the place. The doctor told me that I had scoliosis. I was pretty much fully grown. So I couldn't do the bracing and all like the pre-treatment stuff of when you catch it early.

Laura Miller: Both my husband and I were just like where did this come from? Again, just thought it was because she was toughing out all these injuries.

Katelyn Miller: I hated the idea of having a fused spine and not being able to do all the bending and twisting. But that's when we came across Mayo and tethering surgeries versus the full spinal fusion.

A. Noelle Larson, M.D., Pediatric Orthopedic Surgery, Mayo Clinic: Mayo is a great place to responsibly innovate. Because we truly have a culture of research. You just can't go out and try something new without studying it. That allows us to bring new technology to patients in a rapid fashion. For the first time in 40 years, we do have some truly new approaches to treating severe scoliosis. One form of non-fusion scoliosis surgery is posterior dynamic distraction. So instead of placing two metal rods and screws in the back, the surgical procedure is three screws and one rod. And it is a special rod because the rod can move and the rod can expand and grow over time. I talked to her about the device and told her we're waiting for the approval.

Katelyn Miller: I literally was like, sign me up. I don't care if no one's done it before, I want to do it. Like I'm all in for it.

Laura Miller: I'm thinking she's going to go have a major surgery that's never been done in the United States before. She could be a great candidate for it, but still nothing was approved.

Katelyn Miller: I decided, okay, I'm just going to get through my senior year. I eventually had to stop hurdling and stop jumping. I finally got to the point where I was like, I can't jump because it feels like there's a knife in my back every time I'm landing.

A. Noelle Larson, M.D.: We had the full approval in spring of 2020. We brought her back and had a frank discussion. You'll be our first patient at Mayo having this done. But she was very comfortable that this was the right choice for her to achieve correction of her back, postpone fusion, hopefully indefinitely, and still preserve motion in her back.

Laura Miller: We all felt really good about it. You know, obviously it's the Mayo Clinic and right away we all just felt like super at ease. I absolutely really did trust the fact that she wasn't going to be in pain any longer.

Katelyn Miller: Everything's gone so smoothly. And like I was able to like return and do all the things I love so quickly. Total recovery from when I got the surgery to when I was like fully back, like lifting weights, doing yoga, couldn't have been longer than three months.

A. Noelle Larson, M.D.: It was wonderful to see her at the one-year mark. We saw preserved spinal motion over the levels of the implants. Would you lean down and touch your toes? That's the whole concept behind the device, providing an alternative to fusion surgery for patients with severe scoliosis. Mayo Clinic was the first in the U.S. to be able to perform this procedure. It highlights the ability for Mayo to safely innovate. We're able to bring new treatments and new technologies to our patients, to study these new technologies, and to make the procedures as safe as possible, as efficient as possible, and to get patients back to their usual lives, and not worrying about their backs.

Laura Miller: She was up and moving like so quickly. It was impressive to see her bounce back so quickly.

A. Noelle Larson, M.D.: That looks really good. No change in the screw alignment.

Laura Miller: I felt good just because she's not in pain anymore. The whole thing has been great. The whole Mayo Clinic experience was nothing but positive.

Katelyn Miller: There are options that don't have to make you like stop your life, or not live the life that you want to live and not be as active as you want to be. It's been amazing to see like how much it straightens my back, but also how little impact it's had on the rest of my life.