We have to do this,” said Hunter’s dad, in tears. It was the most difficult decision of Jeff and Jennifer’s lives. Their son, Hunter, who was 3 at the time, was facing the possibility of lifelong paralysis.
Pediatric surgeons explained there was no more time – Hunter needed surgery now. “By choosing to do this surgery, we knew that we were risking our child’s life,” said Jeff. If anything made that decision easier, it was knowing their son was in the very best hands at Children’s Hospital Colorado.
Doctors diagnosed Hunter in utero with a rare condition that can cause abnormalities like a cleft palate and breathing troubles. Although these symptoms weren’t present, they could see a small curvature in his spine, a rare symptom of the disorder. But after he was born, ensuring Hunter could simply breathe and eat were more pressing concerns.
In the months after Hunter was discharged from the NICU, however, his spine rapidly worsened. “He was sitting, and he was crawling, but he wasn’t walking,” Jennifer says.
Hunter was diagnosed with a severe form of scoliosis, a condition that caused his spine to twist and curve like a roller coaster track. His spinal cord was being compressed, blocking nerve signals from his brain before they could reach his legs. Doctors gave his parents the bleak news: Hunter could soon be paralyzed for life.
Hunter’s spine was still so small. To fit screws and plates that would fuse the bones would be incredibly difficult. If anything went wrong, the surgery itself could paralyze him, or worse.
Dr. Sumeet Garg and Dr. Todd Hankinson explained the risks to Jeff and Jennifer. But, explains Hunter’s dad, “You see your kid losing the use of his legs – you have to do something about it if there is something you can do.”
In good hands
Using cutting-edge technology, Children's Colorado doctors created a 3D model of Hunter’s tiny spine in preparation for a complex spinal fusion surgery.
That gave Hunter’s parents “such a huge level of comfort,” said Jeff. When Hunter went into surgery, his doctors had already “operated” on his spine, working out how to avoid many of the risks.
The day of the surgery, Jeff and Jennifer spent 10 anxious hours in the waiting room. Then “I saw Dr. Hankinson and Dr. Garg walking out,” remembers Jennifer, “and they were smiling.”
The sky's the limit
The surgery was a success. After his discharge from the hospital, Hunter began to stand and walk with the help of physical therapy at Children’s Colorado.
Today, 5-year-old Hunter walks on his own. He can run and jump. He moves around like other kids his age – just one of the rough-and-tumble boys on the playground.
Hunter’s progress amazes his parents and they are grateful for his doctors and the exceptional care he received at Children’s Colorado.
“He’s a little boy, and he’s climbing all over stuff and he’s just having a blast," said Jeff. "He’s such a champ."
Today, the sky’s the limit for Hunter.