By Pam McGrath
On November 15, 2018, Washington University neurosurgeon T.S. Park, MD, performed his 4,000 selective dorsal rhizotomy (SDR) surgery at St. Louis Children’s Hospital for Ivy, a 7-year-old girl from Australia. Ivy received a commemorative certificate and balloons printed with “4,000”; Dr. Park enjoyed a surprise party organized by his staff members.
Although the celebratory mood was in recognition of an impressive milestone, it echoed the elation thousands of families have felt over the past 31 years after their children underwent SDR surgery with Dr. Park. His work in developing and refining SDR has made him the world’s leading expert and most-experienced neurosurgeon performing the procedure.
“Dr. Park developed—really single-handedly—the operation of selective dorsal rhizotomy for cerebral palsy,” said Ralph Dacey, MD, the chair of neurologic surgery at Washington University School of Medicine, in a 2017 tribute video to Dr. Park. “And not only did he develop the processes around doing that procedure very effectively and safely, but he was able to prove its efficacy in a series of papers that have become landmark studies.”
The minimally invasive SDR developed by Dr. Park removes less spinal bone than previous procedures, typically resulting in patients having fewer spine and back complications later in life. Depending on patients’ conditions, the surgery can result in them moving from dependency on a wheelchair to walking with canes, to the ability to walk, run and play with no assistance.
“Reaching 4,000 surgeries is not something I thought we would ever see. However, the advent of social media has increased our ability to connect with parents around the world and gain even greater recognition for how much we can help children with cerebral palsy,” says Dr. Park, the Shi H. Huang Professor of Neurosurgery at Washington University School of Medicine.
The stellar reputation of Dr. Park’s SDR program underwent significant growth beginning in 2010 when the Selective Dorsal Rhizotomy – St. Louis Children’s Hospital Facebook page was established. The site now has close to 12,000 followers worldwide, and approximately half of Dr. Park’s patients are international. Surgeries have been performed for patients coming from 77 foreign countries as well as 49 states in the U.S.
And now the same Internet-driven word of mouth is spreading the news of Dr. Park’s success with older patients. He has performed SDR for approximately 140 adolescent and adult patients up to the age of 50.
“We are championing SDR surgery in adults because of the early-aging process these patients go through once they reach their 50s,” explains Dr. Park. “People who were once able to work full time in their 30s and 40s become disabled, with severe body, muscle and joint pain. With SDR surgery, we can stop and often reverse that process.”
Dr. Park has a patient waiting list through June 2020. “We perform about 250 surgeries a year. In four years, we will celebrate again when we reach 5,000 patients,” he says.
For more information or to refer a patient, call Children’s Direct at 800.678.HELP (4357).