Mumbai: Teen to 'sit' for exams after rare spinal condition surgery

Nov 10, 2018, 17:10 IST | Arita Sarkar

After surgery to fix rare spinal condition, 16-year-old is looking forward to sitting for exams without suffering excruciating pain

Mumbai: Teen to 'sit' for exams after rare spinal condition surgery
The teenager had a rare 90-degree hunch; (right) A fortnight after the surgery, he is already up and about

While most kids would do anything to avoid studying, 16-year-old Mukesh (name changed) can't wait to sit at his desk and pick up a textbook. He's dreamed of it for nearly eight years, even as a congenital disorder called kyphosis left his back severely hunched, making even the simple act of sitting excruciatingly painful.

Today, the teenager's face bears a look of relief and hope, as he is finally able to sit up straight after surviving a 13-hour-long surgery at Gokuldas Tejpal Hospital in Fort.

Difficult childhood
A fortnight after the procedure, he is already walking without physiotherapy or crutches, held up solely by willpower. This superpower is what has kept him going since he was seven, when he was discovered lost at Kalyan railway station.

Unlike many paediatric patients who have the support of their parents while battling medical conditions, Mukesh has spent the last eight years alone, being shuffled across three different state-run shelters. He was rescued by RPF officers and taken to a children's home in Bhiwandi. He had told them that his family lived under the Kalamboli bridge, but despite several attempts, social workers were unable to find his parents.

As far as he can recall, the pain started after he was injured in a fall in 2010, at the Bhiwandi shelter he was first taken to. "The pain continued to get worse. For the past couple of years, I haven't been able to sleep, and I would often walk around at night. The pain would force me to leave exams midway," he said.

Rare congenital condition
On the other hand, Dr Dhiraj Sonawane, head of the Orthopaedic and Spine department at GT hospital, said, "One in 10,000 people suffer from kyphosis and it is usually either congenital, which becomes prominent during puberty, when the body grows, or is caused by tuberculosis. In this case, it appears to be congenital."

He added that it was a rare case, considering the severity of the condition. "His spine was curved at a 90-degree angle," said Dr Sonawane. The doctor said that had Mukesh not undergone the surgery, he was at risk of paralysis, in case of a fall. After consulting with spine surgeons from Singapore and the US, Sonawane conducted the surgery on October 26. "This kind of a surgery is usually done in two or three phases. But we decided to do it in one go to minimise the risk," he said, adding that he used cobalt chromium rods to hold the spine - the strongest material.

The hospital also borrowed a neuromonitoring system from Surat to monitor the proximity of the surgical instruments to the spinal cord. Mukesh will be kept under observation for a week before he is discharged.

Amit Gunjal, Mukesh's counsellor and a social worker with the Women and Child Development Department, had visited two other hospitals before he found a doctor willing to perform the procedure. Gunjal said the surgery could be life-changing for the boy. "We have never had cases where a child has received such a major surgery. He is a bright boy and he has an interest in studies. We are thrilled to see him up and about so soon. If he performs well in his Std X exams, he can be placed in an aftercare home, where he can continue his education till he turns 21," he said.

Excited about sitting for exams
Mukesh is a Std X student at Sri RK Abhang Vidyalaya in Ulhasnagar. He is looking forward to his board exams in March 2019, he said, adding, "I was not able to sit for a long time because of the pain. But now, I want to make sure that I study well and complete all my papers." Being able to sit for longer hours means that he can also better enjoy playing chess, a skill that has won him a couple of tournaments. He is also looking forward to reuniting with his friends at the children's home in Ulhasnagar.

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