Angels Among Us

Angels Among Us

Halos offer hope and good news for patients facing invasive spinal surgery.

If you’ve ever wondered about patients with the intimidating-looking hardware on their heads, it’s actually a good thing. Halo traction might look a bit frightening, but it helps children with severe spinal compression or curvature be more active as it gently stretches and straightens the spine. For patients who are ultimately facing surgery to correct spinal problems, participating in this four-to-six-week treatment may result in a less invasive spinal surgery.

“Halo gravity traction is used in cases of spines with severe curves that we need to slowly stretch out, protect the spinal cord and get more correction than we would be able to get with a one-time surgery. Because we’ve already stretched the spine, we’re less likely to have injury to the spinal cord or nerves during the surgery,” says Dr. James Gregory, Pediatric Orthopedic Surgeon at Oklahoma Children’s Hospital OU Health.

The lightweight metal halo is surgically attached to the patient’s skull with small pins. The halo is then attached to a pulley system. Weight is carefully added during the weeks of treatment, which gradually straightens the spine. The nursing and medical teams monitor the patient to ensure there are no adverse responses or reactions. The therapy team monitors the patient’s tolerance to the traction and weight increases to ensure the pulley system is set up appropriately for each patient.

At The Children’s Center Rehabilitation Hospital, there are pulley systems in the patient’s bed, wheelchairs and walkers to promote mobility. Therapists have even put the halo traction system on an adapted tricycle so the patient could ride a bike while in traction.

“We want the kids to get up, be as mobile as possible and not stay in bed,” explains Kristy Hayes, Rehabilitation Therapy Manager at The Children’s Center Rehabilitation Hospital. “The bike was a lot of fun and took a lot of creativity from the physical therapist and equipment technician, along with input from the family to determine the best and safest way to modify it for the patient.”

Dr. Gregory explains that activity is crucial for both the patient and their family.

“It gives the family and the child the opportunity to get up, move around and see different things. It’s good for the mental health of both the family and the child to not be stuck in bed throughout treatment.”

There are also health benefits to staying active during the treatment.

“Getting the kids up and around is much better for their heart, lung and musculoskeletal health. The walker and the tricycle give the patients the opportunity to maintain strength and cardio-respiratory capabilities that we would not see if they were confined to bed for five to six weeks,” Gregory says. “The halo traction can also result in better lung volumes for patients, and may reduce reliance on respiratory support for children on ventilators.”

The multidisciplinary approach at The Children’s Center Rehabilitation Hospital benefits patients and their families throughout the treatment. Doctors and nurses asses the patient’s health, and child life specialists work with the patients to normalize the hospital experience. Recreational therapists provide fun activities for leisure time that are modified for wheelchair or walker, and special education teachers make sure kids are staying on track with schoolwork while in the hospital. Halo Traction doesn’t slow kids down – they can participate in music and pet therapy, and activities with patient activity aides. The addition of the new Adaptive Recreation and Fine Arts Center on the hospital campus offers more opportunities for play and recreation during treatment.

According to Dr. Gregory, the monitored and controlled team environment at The Children’s Center Rehabilitation Hospital is ideal for patients requiring this type of care.

“They have the better resources and opportunities to make sure patients are participating in therapies to maintain their strength and mobility,” he says. “At The Children’s Center Rehabilitation Hospital, we have the access and ability to provide long term care that addresses patients’ physical and occupational therapy and mental health needs that would be difficult to manage at home. It’s a prime spot because of the resources available there.”