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New Procedure May Make Life More Comfortable for Children with Spinal Cord Injuries

Children with spina bifida or traumatic spinal cord injuries and, of course, their parents have plenty to worry about. Just like any of us, they want their children to have normal, healthy lives, but that can be difficult when spinal problems have interfered with one very natural function – bladder control.

But now a surgical technique out of China is being touted as a way to help children with spinal cord injuries or those born with spina bifida regain control of their bladder and progress toward living the normal lives their parents most assuredly want for them.

The Xiao Procedure was developed by a Dr. Xiao in China. When performing the technique, a surgeon takes a small portion of the nerve that usually controls motor function, then cuts it and splices it to a nerve that usually controls bladder and bowel function. Within a span of 6-24 months after the procedure, the nerve regenerates, creating a new nerve pathway to allow the child to empty her bladder by, interestingly enough, scratching a spot on her thigh.

According to an email to an interested mother of a child with spina bifida from Beaumont Hospital in Michigan, the surgery has had a 80% success rate in China. But in the U.S. pilot study, according to a report out of Indiana, only 12 children have had the surgery and that saw mixed results, with more than half of the children improving but the others showing no significant change.

If the surgery does work, it can lead to excellent results. For one thing, no catheter. Catheters can be an uncomfortable nuisance for a child and a major source of worry for parents. For one, if the catheter comes out, a hospital visit is required to reinsert it. The area around the catheter needs constant cleaning and, on young children, parents need to check the catheter every hour for problems such as loops or kinks in the tubing. The contents of the catheter also need to be emptied twice a day. A successful Xiao procedure would potentially raise the child’s and the parents’ quality of life substantially.

Right now, the Xiao Procedure, which costs about $50,000, is not standard practice in the United States, therefore it is not covered under medical insurance. The Beaumont Hospital study seeks to change all that by proving within the US that it works.

Side effects of the Xiao Procedure include weakness to the lower extremity on the operative side, and, if the child walks, that function could be impaired for a short time and require therapy to fully regain. The surgery is also conducted with the patient under general anesthesia, and possible complications from general anesthesia include blood clots, heart attack, stroke, pneumonia and death.

This new technique, still in testing in the United States, could significantly raise the quality of life for injured children and their parents. We here at the MLN Law blog will continue to keep an eye out on further news about this procedure and update our readers here.