Special spine procedure leaves young gymnast standing tall

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A cheerleader and a tumbling trampoline accident that seemed almost impossible to bounce back from. But then a local doctor offered a unique spine procedure that has her standing tall without a large scar.

Christina Martyniouk: “As I was in the air, I knew that I did something wrong.”

It was a combination the competitive cheerleader had been practicing on the tumbling track.

Christina Martyniouk: “I was doing a toe back tuck.”

But just as Christina Martyniouk launched backwards, she was distracted. Then she unraveled in the air.

Christina Martyniouk: “I ended up landing on my stomach with my legs over my head, and it was just really scary. I heard two pops and then just excruciating pain.”

Dr Michael Musacchio, NorthShore University HealthSystem Neurosurgeon: “When she fell face down the legs came over the back and created a kink in the spine and, by overextending, created a fracture line through that middle flexible part of the spine. There’s a fracture and a collapse and a wedging of that bone. You can see there’s a clear difference between a normal bone below and the fracture here.”

Dr Musacchio: “Sometimes with these fractures patients can be paralyzed and they can injure the spinal cord. Fortunately for Christina, she did not.”

But she did need immediate surgery to stabilize her damaged spine.

Dr Musacchio: “Traditional methods for fixing this, the incision would be anywhere from six to 10 inches. We performed Christina’s surgery through two small incisions on the side of the spine about an inch and a half long.”

NorthShore University HealthSystem neurosurgeon Michael Musacchio placed the hardware in Christina’s spine using a navigation system. A nearby antenna communicated locations to create a 3-D image that guided his route.

Dr Musacchio: “This allows us to place these screws and fix this fracture without stripping away all the muscles and ligaments from the spine, which are imperative for the long term health and support of her spine.”

Still, even the slightest misplacement could damage the bone, nerves or blood vessels.

Dr Musacchio: “It’s very rare that we misplace the screw. And if we do misplace the screw we see it right away in the operating room, and we can redirect the screw in the proper position.”

Christina will have the screws and rods – that were placed last August -- removed this summer.

Dr Musacchio: “When we take the screws out the bone won’t fully fill in, but it will scar over and she’ll have good stability still left in the bone and the joints are completely intact.”

Christina: “There’s no pain at all. I’m really happy. I would say that I was lucky.”

Christina is now training to be an athletic trainer – she hopes to help fellow injured athletes. You can learn more about her minimally invasive spine surgery at http://www.northshore.org/neurological-institute/ and http://www.northshore.org/spine-center/specialists/