Evonte Cathey: VEPTR device tackles scoliosis

Published On 07/31/2012

Born with severe curve of his spine, Evonte Cathey underwent a spinal fusion surgery at the age of 3. The operation successfully prevented the curve’s progression, but his fused ribs and spine curvature made it difficult for his lungs to grow and expand. Doctors at Campbell Clinic Spine Center at Le Bonheur Children’s began to look at other options.

In the March 2007, Evonte, then 9, underwent another operation, this time an expansion thoracotomy to separate his fused ribs and expand his thoracic volume by implanting two Vertical Expandable Prosthetic Titanium Rib (VEPTR) devices. The device – a curved titanium rod that is attached to the ribs near the spine – helps decrease the spine’s curvature, while allowing the lungs to grow and develop.

The device is lengthened once every four to six months in a 45-minute outpatient surgical procedure, essentially growing as the child grows, said Pediatric Orthopedic Surgeon Jeffrey R. Sawyer, MD. Without VEPTR, Evonte’s curve would have continued to progress, and his lungs would not be able to grow to their full capacity.

“For Evonte, having the option of VEPTR also made his fusion safer in terms of the fact that he started from a better cardiopulmonary standpoint and with less deformity,” said Sawyer. “In addition, he would have had permanent pulmonary compromise without this device.”

The Campbell Clinic Spine Center at Le Bonheur Children’s is one of the high-volume centers in the country that provide VEPTR implantation for pediatric scoliosis patients. Evonte’s device was removed this past year, making him the first VEPTR graduate of the Campbell Clinic Spine Center at Le Bonheur. Evonte will visit the spine center once every six months for a check-up, but his prognosis is promising.

His curve is now stabilized at 40 degrees, and his lungs have reached maximal growth.

“He’s actually looking like a normal 14-year-old,” said Evonte’s mom, Yolanda Cathey. “He’s taller and straighter. You wouldn’t be able to tell he has scoliosis.”

Now 14 years old, Evonte wants to run track someday, says his mom. “I’m truly thankful for the VEPTR procedure,” said Yolanda. “I was worried that it wouldn’t work, but it has.”