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Desert Companion

Case Study: Dr. Mark A. Barry, orthopedic surgeon

The innovator

Dr. Barry has taken scoliosis treatment to a new dimension — literally

The images on Dr. Mark A. Barry’s website are striking. Before-and-after X-rays show the severely deformed spines of children — some nearly doubled back on themselves in sharp curves — straightened by surgically implanted titanium rods and up to 20 screws. As a pediatric orthopedist, Barry treats hundreds of different conditions in “every part of the body, from the top of the neck to the tip of the toes,” but it is this innovative treatment of spinal deformity that has become a third of his practice — and growing — and has helped revolutionize scoliosis correction.

“For the longest time, surgeons have just stretched out a curve of the spine to straighten it,” Barry says. The problem is that deformed spines aren’t just crooked, like the “S” shape you see in an x-ray; the vertebrae are also twisted. So, eight years ago, Barry designed “a system of putting derotator levers on the spine … to get that last dimension of correction that surgeons have been trying to get for decades. Now we’re able to do it. That’s been my contribution.” A contribution that has been adopted and emulated by orthopedic surgeons around the world.

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Before this technique, scoliosis patients could expect many months of painful external bracing after surgery and long-term, often permanent, limitations on their activity. “Now,” Barry says, “we know that by correcting in three dimensions we can get a much better correction, a much better cosmetic result, a much more secure, strong correction which can allow kids to go back after surgery is finished and they’re all healed up to do everything that they wanted to do, no restrictions in the long term.”

A member of the Desert Orthopedic Center and a Clinical Assistant Professor at the University Of Nevada School Of Medicine, Barry performs about 50 spinal surgeries a year and handles many of the toughest cases from across the Southwest. Six to 12 months after surgery, he asks his patients if their backs hinder their lives or childhoods in any way. “The uniform answer,” he says, “is, ‘My back feels normal for me. It’s like I never had surgery. I can do everything I want to do.’”

Barry, 52,  grew up and trained in Canada before moving to Las Vegas in 1993. He has volunteered his skills in Cambodia and is planning to volunteer in Mozambique this summer.

And he’s still working on new techniques to improve the lives of children. One challenge is that scoliosis surgeries on very young children can prevent the spine from lengthening, so that organs, especially the lungs, don’t have room to fully develop. “Sometimes they don’t make it,” Barry says, “because their lungs aren’t large enough to support adult size. So that’s a particular area of research and development that I’m working on right now. That’s my next challenge.”

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