It’s every parent’s worst nightmare. Discovering their child has something wrong with them–and nobody seems to be able to figure out what it is. This was what happened to my parents, and the patient was me. When I was eight years old, I began exhibiting several strange symptoms, all of them very different from the others. It took many tests, doctor visits, and a long time before my doctors were able to finally put all the pieces of the puzzle together. The different symptoms included:
- Chronic urinary tract infections. I also experienced a difficulty with emptying my bladder. For this ailment, my parents took me to the family doctor. While he told us that this unusually high occurrence of urinary tract infections was rare in children my age, he didn’t seem to be too concerned, simply treating them with antibiotics each time I came in.
- Lack of balance and coordination. My parents were not too concerned with this, but did mention it to the pediatrician. He told them that many kids my age had coordination issues and I would likely grow out of it.
- Left foot turned in. It was like I was pigeon toed, but only on one foot. While my parents were slightly concerned, they didn’t have it checked out for quite a while.
- Left foot and leg smaller than the right. While they were not too concerned with the left foot turning in, they did become concerned when my left leg and foot became noticeably smaller than the right. The change was so gradual it took them a long time to notice the difference. What finally alerted them to the problem was trying to find shoes I could wear comfortably. By the age of eight, my left foot was half a size smaller than the right.
By the age of eight, the problems had become too difficult to ignore. The pediatrician knew something serious was wrong, but wasn’t sure what. He put me through a test to check for reflux in my bladder and kidneys to see what was causing my urinary tract infections and trouble urinating. It revealed nothing. Unsure what else to do about that, he opted to send me to an orthopedic specialist to see about my small left leg. The orthopedic checked me out and checked my spine for a “dimple,” (a small indention on my lower back) which was present. He suspected what it was and sent me for an MRI immediately. This revealed the problem and I was diagnosed with a tethered spinal cord, which is a problem that prevents the spinal nerves from spreading to where they needed to go, causing problems all over my body. It is condition that is related to spina bifida. The only cure is surgery, which must be performed by a neurosurgeon.
The orthopedic was very concerned, as this disorder should be diagnosed and treated ideally by age six. I was eight and close to losing function below the waist. That orthopedic had saved my ability to walk. I had the surgery a week after diagnosis and now only suffer mild residual problems from this disorder. I am able to live a completely normal life. This disorder is very serious, however. It is usually detected much earlier now, but not always. If your child exhibits any of these symptoms, especially the difference in leg sizes and the indention on the low back, take them to their pediatrician or a neurologist. Hopefully they will not have a tethered spinal cord, but if they do, early detection and treatment is key.
For more information about Tethered Spinal Cord Syndrome and a complete list of symptoms, visit The American Association of Neurological Surgeons.