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Stepping up to the Plate: A Little Leaguer Overcomes Cerebral Palsy

Born with cerebral palsy, Matthew Russo of Brooklyn, New York had been going to physical therapy since he was nine months old to improve his joint range of motion and strengthen his coordination and balance.

Often misperceived as a form of mental retardation or a condition related to cognitive impairment, cerebral palsy is described more accurately by impairment of motor skills, ranging from mild to severe.

Matthew’s case, which is considered mild, does not impact his performance in the classroom, but only presents challenges when keeping up with his peers physically. After two years in leg braces failed to help Matthew meet these challenges, his mother, Linda Cesaria, turned to Dr. David M. Scher in the Pediatric Orthopedic Service at Hospital for Special Surgery.

“His examination was so thorough,” says Ms. Cesaria. “He explained everything about Matthew’s condition, was compassionate, and made Matthew feel relaxed. I felt very comfortable and confident choosing Dr. Scher to help correct Matthew’s problem.”

After physically examining Matthew and performing a series of x-rays and a gait analysis (which utilized digital technology to measure how Matthew’s joints were moving throughout all three planes of space), Dr. Scher recommended that the seven-year-old undergo a series of surgeries designed to straighten his hips and release tightness in the muscles of his legs.

The procedure, which is known as a single event multi-level surgery (SEMLS), encompassed eight surgeries under one anesthesia. The surgeries included a varus rotational osteotomy (VRO), which placed his hip bone in greater alignment with his socket and shifted his legs outward to place them in a stronger position for growth, and several lengthening procedures of the muscles in his lower extremities.

“After the initial shock of Matthew being told that he needed surgery, he was a trooper and such a good sport about it,” says Ms. Cesaria.

“Post-surgery,” she continues, “both of Matthew’s legs were in casts and he had to use a wheelchair for eight weeks. When the casts were removed, he had to use a walker for six weeks.”

After one year, Matthew returned to HSS to have plates removed from his hips, a common overnight procedure, and then required a walker for an additional four weeks. Throughout the entire process, his attitude impressed even Dr. Scher.

“He’s got a great spirit,” says the surgeon. “After the surgery and during his rehabilitation, he was quite mature and an exceptionally hard worker. I think that’s much of the reason behind his quick recovery and his excellent result.”

Matthew, now 10, still wears braces for six hours a day and goes to physical therapy twice a week, but the Little League outfielder, whose favorite player is Derek Jeter, is keeping up with his peers better than ever before.

“Our season is just beginning, but I hope we make the playoffs,” says the three-sport athlete.

“Throughout both of the surgeries, the staff was wonderful,” says Ms. Cesaria. “Not only did they take such excellent care of my son, they also were wonderful to me. Two years later, I often still talk about the wonderful experience we had. Because of the excellent care they provided, HSS made a very stressful time for my family a lot better. I will forever be thankful and grateful for what Dr. Scher has done for my son.”

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