Middleton

‘I felt like one in a million': Rare procedure helps Middleton teen with scoliosis

Three years removed from surgery, 16-year-old Kaleah Perham is back to skiing and playing sports after undergoing vertebral body tethering surgery

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Just like skiing down the slopes, life has its ups and downs -- with a few obstacles in between.

It's an adrenaline rush that 16-year-old Middleton, Massachusetts, native Kaleah Perham has loved ever since her dad first took her to the mountain.

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But it was almost taken away.

During a routine screening at her elementary school, Kaleah was told she had scoliosis. Her family doctor gave her a back brace, but on a follow up visit told her that her curve wasn't getting better at all.

In came Dr. John Braun, a pediatric orthopedic spine surgeon at Massachusetts General Hospital.

"We like to treat these curves when the curve is somewhere between 40 and 60 degrees," Braun said. "Her curve had gotten up to 62. Because the lower part of her spine was trying to accommodate for this curve, it had tilted. It was almost like she had two problems."

There was only one solution -- a rare procedure known as vertebral body tethering, or VBT, where surgeons insert a strong, flexible cord to straighten out the spine over time. Think of it like an internal brace designed to correct the spine's direction while the body is still growing.

"I think my parents were more nervous, but I kind of felt like one in a million," Kaleah said.

At the time of her surgery, the procedure had only been done 200 times successfully in the entire world.

"The most nerve wracking part of it was they had to deflate one of my lungs," Kaleah said.

She is now three years removed from her surgery. And she hasn't just returned to sports -- she's excelled, pain free.

But it may be because she has something no one else does.

"I'm part robot now," Kaleah said. "I've got titanium in me."

Since earning FDA approval in 2019, more than 2,000 people in the world have gotten VBT surgery. Massachusetts General Hospital has performed more of those procedures than any other facility, and surgeons say this is only the beginning.

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