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news News Tuesday, March 13, 2018 Tuesday, March 13, 2018 11:51 AM - Tuesday, March 13, 2018 11:51 AM

Scoliosis patient with autism finds balanced and collaborative care at the Philadelphia Shriners Hospital

With support from his service dog, Matthew's spinal fusion surgery is a success

Scoliosis patient with autism finds balanced and collaborative care at the Philadelphia Shriners Hospital

As a growing boy, 12-year-old Matthew began to develop scoliosis. Like many of our patients, Matthew and his family traveled to Shriners Hospitals for Children — Philadelphia to undergo spinal fusion with Amer Samdani, M.D., chief of surgery. Unlike most other patients, Matthew’s family also includes Sammy, a service dog trained to help Matthew cope with his autism.

Diagnosed with severe autism spectrum disorder as a toddler, Matthew struggles with limited speech, a lack of awareness for safety, difficulty sleeping, and poor fine motor skills.

In 2013, Matthew’s family heard about 4 Paws for Ability, a program that provides service dogs to autistic children. Based on Matthew’s needs, they trained Sammy for behavior disruption (touching, nudging, snuggling and applying deep pressure), tethering during walks to prevent Matthew from running off, and tracking in the event Matthew would get lost. Sammy also helps to increase Matthew’s vocabulary as he learns commands and helps with social interaction when they are out in public.

In November 2016, Matthew’s physical therapist at school sent a note home that stated his inability to complete a skill on his list of goals was most likely due to his scoliosis. This was the first time his parents Matt and Annelle ever heard anyone say that Matthew had scoliosis. They made an appointment at Crippled Children’s Society of Schuylkill County where they were encouraged to seek a second opinion due to the severity of Matthew’s curve.

After researching various doctors and facilities, Matthew’s family decided that Dr. Samdani and Shriners Hospitals for Children — Philadelphia was their best option.

“[Dr. Samdani’s] caring and understanding during our visit put us at ease and reinforced the fact that Shriners Hospitals is the best place for Matthew,” said Matthew’s mother Annelle.

Before Matthew’s surgical stay, his family coordinated extensively with staff concerning Matthew’s autism and handling pre-surgery scenarios and post-surgery recovery. An important pre-surgery activity included repeatedly reading Matthew a social story that outlined the entire process so Matthew could then recognize each event as it happens and had a semblance of a schedule.

As always, Matthew brought Sammy along with him to comfort him in a new place.

“In addition to incorporating Sammy into the process, Shriners Hospitals really took the information we provided and developed a great plan,” said Annelle.

“Having therapeutic support staff during our entire stay was awesome,” said Annelle. “They were able to help the nursing staff keep Matthew safe and provided both us and Sammy relief when we needed it.”

“The outcome from Matthew’s surgery is nothing short of exceptional,” said his father Matt. “From the wonderful nurses, to amazing results and care of the surgical team, to the passion and dedication of all of the supporting personnel, we can’t thank them enough,” said Matt. “Even the cafeteria ladies asked how Matthew was doing! You just don’t find that type of personal care anywhere, but you find it at Shriners.”

“We made the right choice by selecting Shriners Hospitals for Children — Philadelphia and would encourage anyone with a child that has developed scoliosis or any other severe orthopaedic condition to consider treatment with Dr. Samdani,” said Matt. “They are masters of their craft and compassionate in their approach.”

To learn more about Shriners Hospitals for Children — Philadelphia’s full range of spine services, visit our Scoliosis and Spine Care page.