Cerebral palsy therapy praised

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 27 December, 2006, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 27 December, 2006, 12:00am

Surgery reduces the twitching that plagues sufferers

A hospital that has been performing complex nerve-cutting surgery on cerebral palsy sufferers says long-term observation has shown it helps them lead more normal lives.

Tuen Mun Hospital has used the highly invasive technique, known as selective dorsal rhizotomy (SDR), on nearly 60 children aged four to 12 over the past decade.

The hospital's chief of neurosurgery, Dawson Fong To-sang, said the surgery reduced muscle stiffness and the involuntary twitching that plagued cerebral palsy patients.

The encouraging results had helped ease parents' reservations about the procedure, which required a long period of physiotherapy and could lead to complications.

'SDR has been used for treating such patients in western countries for dozens of years, but it is so invasive that many local parents have had reservations,' Dr Fong said. 'However, over the past decade, we have proved that the surgical procedures can significantly improve the patients' limb movements and none of them have any complications so far.'

Hong Kong has 60 to 90 new cases each year of cerebral palsy, which is caused by brain damage before birth, during delivery or soon after being born. The damage can affect body movements and muscle co-ordination so the children may have difficulty moving, walking, writing or communicating.

Cerebral palsy cannot be cured but treatments, such as physiotherapy, medication and surgery, can improve the patients' difficulties.

About a decade ago, Tuen Mun Hospital introduced SDR procedures to treat spastic cerebral palsy, which accounts for about 60 per cent of the total.

During the operation, the neurosurgeon divides each of the sensory nerve roots - dorsal roots - into three to five rootlets and stimulates each rootlet electrically so as to identify the abnormal ones. The abnormal rootlets are selectively cut, leaving normal ones intact.

Afterward, the patients need intensive physical therapy for six to eight weeks and to see a paediatrician regularly for about six years.

'I was unhappy when my classmates teased me about my walking like a robot in the past,' said nine-year-old patient Sam Leung Cheuk-chung, who underwent the SDR procedures three years ago.

'The physiotherapy after the surgery was very painful. I cried a lot, but now I can walk like the normal kids, hopping and playing football.'