Local News

WakeMed Clinic Aims To Help Children Suffering From Painful Spasms

Posted July 2, 2004 12:04 p.m. EDT

— Imagine contracting a muscle as hard as you could for 10, maybe 20 hours a day. Think of how tiring and painful that would be.

That is exactly what life is like for thousands of children who have cerebral palsy, a stroke or other brain injury. Those children may suffer a condition called spasticity, and a unique clinic in Raleigh is taking a team approach to helping them.

Cerebral palsy is a devastating diagnosis. Tangy and Andy Winstead's 4-year-old twins have it. Caleb's condition is more severe.

"With Caleb, it affected everything from his head to his toes," Tangy Winstead said.

Caleb has problems with spasticity -- his muscles spasm thousands of times a day. His arms and legs are so stiff he cannot speak or feed himself.

The Winsteads traveled from Wilson to WakeMed in Raleigh for help.

"As a parent, it's nice to be able to come somewhere and tell you where to go next," Winstead said.

The hospital's new pediatric spasticity program is the first of its kind in North Carolina. A team of specialists work together to help children, like Caleb.

"This is really the first time that we've been able to do anything to meet the needs of the children in a coordinated fashion," Dr. Patrick O'Brien said.

Before every appointment, the team discusses treatment options.

Pediatric neurosurgeon Dr. Ann Ritter believes the team approach is the best way to tackle the complex problem.

"I can't say that there is any better way to do this," Ritter said.

"We make sure that the expectations are realistic. What we shoot for is the best possible outcome," Dr. Keith Mankin said.

That outcome includes medications and other treatments to help control spasms.

Tangy Winstead hopes the clinic will help her son.

"For him to be able to eat, just say 'Mommy, Daddy.' That means a lot," she said.

Besides oral medications, doctors are also optimistic about two treatment options. One is an infusion pump which is implanted into the abdomen and delivers pain medication. The other is a procedure caled a dorsal rhizocalled where surgeons sever a nerve to reduce the number of spasms.