Rose Hill teen undergoes groundbreaking spinal procedure

Better Health & Wellness

WICHITA, Kan. (KSNW) – A Rose Hill teenager is recovering and walking following the first successful Vertebral Body Tethering (VBT) procedure in the state of Kansas.

Isabella Hillman, 14, has scoliosis. Patients with scoliosis have a spine shaped like the letters “C” or “S” rather than a straight line, which can cause the shoulders, hips, or waist to appear uneven.

Dr. Matt Hollenbeck, a pediatric orthopedic surgeon at Kansas Orthopaedic Center, performed the surgery on her at Wesley Medical Center last week.

“It’s a new technology where you place screws in a rope, which allows the patient to be flexible and continue to have motion throughout the spine, however preventing the curve from getting worse and causing problems in the future,” Hollenbeck said.

Hollenbeck tells KSN News this new procedure is an alternative to older methods like spinal fusion, where bones in the vertebrae are fused together to form one block of vertebrae with no curve, using stiff metal rods. Instead, VBT uses a strong, flexible rope to correct the spine’s shape.

Before and after of Isabella Hillman’s spine after Vertebral Body Tethering, performed by pediatric orthopedic surgeon, Dr. Matt Hollenbeck. The surgery was performed at Wesley Medical Center.

The surgery is mainly recommended for adolescents who still have growth remaining so they can help to grow themselves straight, according to Hollenbeck.

“Oh my goodness, it’s like nearly straight in the after. It was so curved, now it’s just really straight,” Hillman said, looking at before and after photos of her spine.

Hillman looks forward to new possibilities, including gymnastics, swimming, and jumping on the trampoline with her brothers, all things that used to come with limitations for her back.

Hillman’s father, Joseph, estimates the VBT procedure took five to six hours. Afterward, his daughter was left with four small incisions, reportedly less than an inch long.

Hillman will now recover and have the option to return to full sports in just six weeks, according to Hollenbeck.

VBT requires specific training, which Hollenbeck says was delayed by the pandemic. He says there are already one or two other patients signed up for the surgery.

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