For a child, having to wear a bulky, fiberglass cast around an arm or leg might not sound like a fun treatment option, especially when they need to wear it for up to six weeks.
So doctors at Seattle Children’s are doing what they can to make the experience a little more fun.
“What color casts would you like?” Dr. Suzanne Yandow, chief of at Seattle Children’s, asked Lauren Huber, 4.
Lauren looked up at Yandow with her big blue eyes, holding tightly to her baby doll, Kiddo, and exclaimed, “Pink!” without hesitation. “But I’d also like a little purple for my twin sister,” Lauren added as she looked at her mom. “Her favorite color is purple, so I want purple. But just a little. I want it to be mostly pink,” she said.
To add a little extra flair, Yandow decided to throw in some bows for good measure. It’s a unique technique she’s been perfecting for years.
“As surgeons, we have the ability to make a cast a positive experience for a child,” said Yandow. “Kids don’t get to decide if they have surgery, or if they need a cast. But having a child pick what color they want for their cast helps them understand that they do have something in their realm of control. It turns a negative into a positive. And in some cases, we can make the cast extra special.”
A new city, new care
The Huber family was transferred to the Pacific Northwest for work in June of 2015. Although they had no say as to where they would be sent, the family crossed their fingers for Seattle. Lauren was diagnosed withat birth and required on-going care to help manage the condition.
“We were thrilled when we found out we’d be moving to Seattle,” said Casey Huber. “We knew Seattle Children’s was a good hospital and would meet the needs of our family.”
“Imagine a charley horse,” said Huber. “That’s what it’s like for Lauren. Her muscles don’t relax. She walks on her tip toes in a squatted position and hunches when she sits. The message from her brain that tells her muscles and tendons to relax just doesn’t get through.”
In June the family called Seattle Children’s to make an appointment to learn about treatment options. The family had tried physical therapy, orthotics and braces with no avail. They were hoping for a more aggressive approach.
“We were at the point where we had exhausted all other treatment options,” said Huber.
Originally the family was interested in, an innovative treatment option offered exclusively in the Pacific Northwest by Seattle Children’s. But before moving forward with the treatment, the neurosurgery team referred the family to to discuss another treatment option. That’s when the family met Yandow.
Yandow recommended a surgery that would lengthen Lauren’s muscles to help her walk normally and correct her posture. During the surgery, Yandow would place casts on both of Lauren’s legs. She would need to wear them for up to six weeks and then start rehabilitation.
“It’s a lot to think about. It’s our child and a very extensive surgery,” said Huber. “But Dr. Yandow isn’t your typical doctor. She takes the time to help make sure you understand. She’s not just there to do surgery. She’s with you for the long haul. She makes you feel very comfortable and leaves the medical jargon outside the door. I knew the choices we were making were the right ones.”
The family trusted in Yandow and the treatment approach. It also made the option for selective dorsal rhizotomy feasible at a later date.
Casting with care
After a five hour surgery, Lauren came out of the operating room (OR) with two bright pink and purple casts, adorned with pink bows on each foot.
“I’d never seen something like that before,” said Huber. “You could tell Dr. Yandow put lots of care into each cast. We absolutely loved them! Each bow was perfect, like something you’d see on the top of a present.”
But Lauren wasn’t the only one to come out of the OR with casts. Yandow created two special casts for Lauren’s baby doll, Kiddo, too. Each cast was pink with a little bit of purple and had two miniature pink bows on each of the doll’s two feet to match Lauren’s. It was an unexpected, but pleasant surprise for Lauren.
“Lauren takes the doll everywhere with her,” said Huber. “It’s comforting. So when Kiddo got casts too, it made it easier to explain what had happened. ”
Lauren will have to wear the casts for up to six weeks, while her muscles and tendons recover. She’ll have to go through rehabilitation and physical therapy, but Yandow is optimistic about the treatment. Although surgery and casting can be a tough experience to go through, the bows and bright colors help remind Lauren she’s not alone in her journey.
“Sometimes it’s the little things that make the biggest difference,” said Yandow.