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news News Thursday, February 14, 2019 Thursday, February 14, 2019 11:21 AM - Thursday, February 14, 2019 11:21 AM

Spina bifida: The specialists at Shriners Hospitals for Children — Chicago

Chicago pediatric team offers weekly specialized spina bifida clinics for children

Spina bifida: The specialists at Shriners Hospitals for Children — Chicago

Spina bifida is a birth defect that requires special care. The incomplete closing of the backbone and membranes surrounding the spinal cord lead to a malformation of the spine, allowing nerve tissue to come out.

Haluk Altiok, M.D., pediatric orthopaedic surgeon and director of the spina bifida clinic at Shriners Hospitals for Children — Chicago, explains the condition, treatment and developments in care.

What the diagnosis means

Spina bifida is a congenital condition that can be diagnosed before the baby is born. Ultrasound or amniocentesis helps spot the condition. Taking folic acid during pregnancy has been shown to prevent incidence of the defect. Children born with spina bifida often have a sac on their back where the spine hasn’t closed. The nerves in the sac are obviously an issue. Muscles weaken, and hydrocephaly may result. “This needs to be addressed for these children to survive,” alerts Dr. Altiok. “Once we get them through this critical point, we then administer care to these patients in our clinics.”

Treating spina bifida

Spina bifida treatment involves a multi-step and multidisciplinary process. Dr. Altiok explains that professionals focus on the child’s ability to walk as the family focuses on well-being. The care team at the Chicago Shriners Hospital can also include a neurosurgeon, urologist, rehabilitation and physical medicine physician, and both occupational and physical therapists. Working with about ten patients during each weekly clinic, these team members pay a great deal of attention to the individual function of each patient. Range of motion is examined and treated with supports. Shunts that reduce pressure around the brain are checked. Bladder and bowel functions are verified to reduce any future kidney issues. Some patients engage in gait studies so physicians can correct and predict issues. Psychologists aid with social issues.

Preparing for the future

Staff members at the Chicago Shriners Hospital work with children as they grow older. Children may have the option to attend summer camp for a week in order to gain skills for independent adult living. Adaptive devices and training for walking efficiency are implemented as appropriate. How to tap one’s own shunt and empty the bladder are also part of the instruction. “We make sure these patients become independent individuals as they get older,” assures Dr. Altiok.

Technological advances give hope to future generations prone to spina bifida. Intrauterine repair can be done around 24 weeks of gestation, surgically correcting the condition before the baby is born. Individuals who have undergone intrauterine repair have fewer shunt problems and central nervous issues. “It’s an amazing testament to human beings, how we can be so resilient,” states Dr. Altiok.

Listen to a podcast interview with Dr. Haluk Altiok, orthopaedic surgeon and director of the spina bifida clinic at Shriners Hospital for Children — Chicago.