Spinal Fusion for Scoliosis: Before Your Child's Surgery

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What is spinal fusion?

Scoliosis is a problem with the curve in the spine. Some curves in the spine are normal. But sometimes a spine makes a large curve from side to side in the shape of the letter "S" or the letter "C." If this curve is severe, it can cause pain and make breathing difficult. Spinal fusion is surgery that helps straighten the curves. It can relieve pain, make breathing easier, and give the spine a more normal appearance.

The doctor makes one or more cuts in the back. These cuts are called incisions. The doctor then attaches metal fasteners to the curved part of the spine. He or she straightens the spine and puts small pieces of bone, called grafts, into the spine. These pieces are usually taken from the child's hip. Over time, the grafts grow together, or fuse, with the spinal bone to put the spine into the proper position. The goal of the operation is not to make the spine perfectly straight, but to give it a more normal appearance and help it support the body better.

Your child will stay in the hospital for several days after surgery. By the time he or she leaves the hospital, your child will be able to dress, feed himself or herself, and walk. In 10 to 14 days your doctor will remove your child's bandage and stitches or staples. If your child has stitches that dissolve in the body over time, the doctor will not need to take them out. Your doctor will tell you if your child needs to go back to have any stitches removed. Your child may go back to school in 3 to 6 weeks.

Follow-up care is a key part of your child's treatment and safety. Be sure to make and go to all appointments, and call your doctor if your child is having problems. It's also a good idea to know your child's test results and keep a list of the medicines your child takes.

What happens before surgery?

Surgery can be stressful both for your child and for you. This information will help you understand what you can expect. And it will help you safely prepare for your child's surgery.

Preparing for surgery

  • Understand exactly what surgery is planned, along with the risks, benefits, and other options.
  • Tell the doctors ALL the medicines and natural health products your child takes. Some of these can increase the risk of bleeding or interact with anesthesia. Your doctor will tell you which medicines your child should take or stop before surgery.
  • Talk to your child about the surgery. Tell your child that spinal fusion will help his or her body work better. Hospitals know how to take care of children. The staff will do all they can to make it easier for your child.
  • Ask if a special tour of the operating area and hospital is available. This may make your child feel less nervous about what happens.
  • Plan for your child's recovery time. He or she may need more of your time right after the surgery, both for care and for comfort.

The day before surgery

  • A nurse may call you (or you may need to call the hospital). This is to confirm the time and date of your child's surgery and answer any questions.
  • Remember to follow your doctor's instructions about your child taking or stopping medicines before surgery. This includes over-the-counter medicines.

What happens on the day of surgery?

  • Follow the instructions exactly about when your child should stop eating and drinking. If you don't, the surgery may be cancelled. If the doctor told you to have your child take his or her medicines on the day of surgery, have your child take them with only a sip of water.
  • Have your child take a bath or shower before you come in. Do not apply lotion or deodorant.
  • Your child may brush his or her teeth. But tell your child not to swallow any toothpaste or water.
  • Do not let your child wear contact lenses. Bring your child's glasses or contact lens case.
  • Be sure your child has something that reminds him or her of home. A special stuffed animal, toy, or blanket may be comforting. For an older child, it might be a book or music.

At the hospital or surgery centre

  • A parent or legal guardian must accompany your child.
  • Your child will be kept comfortable and safe by the anesthesia provider. Your child will be asleep during the surgery.
  • The surgery takes several hours to complete.
  • After surgery, your child will be taken to the recovery room. As your child wakes up, the recovery room staff will monitor his or her condition. The doctor will talk to you about the surgery.

Going home

  • Expect your child to be sleepy. Encourage extra rest the first day. Most children can be more active on the day after surgery.
  • Follow your doctor's instructions about when your child can do vigorous exercise. This includes sports, running, and physical education.
  • When you leave the hospital, you will get more information about how to take care of your child at home.
  • The doctor or nurse will tell you when your child can start normal activities again.

When should you call your doctor?

  • You have questions or concerns.
  • You don't understand how to prepare your child for the surgery.
  • Your child becomes ill before the surgery (such as fever, flu, or a cold).
  • You need to reschedule or have changed your mind about your child having the surgery.

Where can you learn more?

Go to https://www.healthwise.net/patientEd

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