Teenager shows remarkable recovery from after multiple spine surgeries

A little over two years ago, because of a life-threatening pair of life-threatening spine circumstances, John Sarcona had to go into surgery for over 13 hours.

By the time he was seventeen, his spine was in such a poor form that, according to the New York-Presbyterian hospital website, it literally crushed his internal organs, making it difficult for him to breathe.

John was only about 5 when his scoliosis was diagnosed and he had to fit 18 hours a day in a torso brace.

“I didn’t like it at all when I was little,” he told the site. “It was very restrictive, really hot and itchy.”

John’s mother, Joanne, said, “I used to hate putting it on him. He was such a little tyke. All the time, he’d ask, ‘Can I take it off, Mommy?’ when he’d go play with his brother or friends or when he was tired of wearing it all day. We thought it was only going to be for a short period of time and then it would be over.”

From there, the Sarconas started to visit a number of spine experts and looked at a number of distinct therapy alternatives, including one that would have left John with a shortened torso throughout his life.

The family eventually settled on a sequence of surgeries from 2007 to 2013, approximately every six months, to insert tubes into his back to regulate his scoliosis.

“Some surgeries were worse than others,” Joanne told NewYork-Presbyterian. “Some years, more surgeries were needed because the rods needed maintenance.”

“With each one, I had the mindset of let’s just take it how it goes and try and move forward, but it was tough because the future was kind of uncertain,” John said.

Still, the surgeries appeared to be successful, at least at first.

Unfortunately, at the age of 13, John began to develop a serious case of thoracic kyphosis, an upward curvature of the spine, which led the bones in his back to break.

And finally the rods even started to break through John’s skin, something his mom found on one of his t-shirts after discovering blood. At that stage, another surgery had to be planned.

“That time I was in a lot of pain,” John told NewYork-Presbyterian. “Normally, after two or three weeks I start getting out of bed, but we didn’t really see any of that progress happening and the incisions weren’t healing. I was sick all the time. I wasn’t holding food down. Going up the stairs, I’d be out of breath.”

In addition, a tool that measures lung air ability, called a spirometer, showed a drop in John’s oxygen concentrations, prompting his mom to head to the emergency room. Instead of going to Dr. Lawrence Lenke, chief surgeon and chief of spinal deformity surgery at the Daniel and Jane Och Spine Hospital in New York-Presbyterian, her doctor informed her over the phone.

“If they had waited a few more weeks to come to the hospital, John wouldn’t be here,” he told the hospital’s website. “John’s kyphosis was one of the most severe and most challenging I’ve ever treated.”

Dr. Lenke administered vertebral column resection surgery after several weeks in the hospital helping John regain his strength, a comprehensive and dangerous procedure that is usually only used as a last resort.

But it would be John Sarcona’s last surgery.

“Waking up, from the surgery, some of the nurses were even so shocked to see my progress,” he said in a video for NewYork-Presbyterian. “Everything felt new.”

“I’m most excited about moving on,” he told NewYork-Presbyterian, “and not having to constantly think about the next surgery in a couple months. … Now I get to feel like a normal kid. I’m focusing on getting stronger and going to college. Now is the time I can focus on school and just be at the same level as everyone else. It’s exciting.”

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