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Baclofen pump helps two boys with severe spasticity

By Molly Cartwright

Thirteen-year-old Kordell Rodrigues has cerebral palsy. Seven years ago, he suffered from such severe spasticity that his body was like a stiff board, according to his grandmother, Debra Rodrigues. Doctors recommended that Kordell have a baclofen pump surgically implanted into his abdomen to alleviate his spasticity.

Debra said the decision to get the baclofen pump – a programmable device that delivers medication to relieve severe spasticity – was a measure of last resort for Kordell. At the time, the pump was a new treatment option. The pump did help relieve Kordell’s symptoms. Today, he is happier and able to sit in a wheelchair more comfortably.

Kordell was used to pain and having surgery, so he was not afraid to get the baclofen pump. Doctors had tried a tendon lengthening surgical procedure as well as Botox® shots to loosen him up, but nothing had really helped him.

Debra had always known that her grandson’s spasticity made him uncomfortable and unable to move. What she didn’t know was how much pain it had caused him, too. Another patient at Mary Free Bed Rehabilitation Hospital who had the baclofen pump said the muscle spasms were like prolonged Charlie horses. Once Debra knew about the pain, she hoped the baclofen pump would let Kordell focus less on his pain and more on doing things and having fun.

“I had no idea what to expect,” Debra said of Kordell’s improved condition after getting the baclofen pump. “It’s so much better than what it could be.”

Although Kordell can’t communicate verbally, he interacts with people more than before. Most importantly to Debra, her grandson is happier.

Jesus Corona and his adoptive mother, Corinna Corona, also decided to get the baclofen pump to manage Jesus’s spasticity. Jesus was born 4 months prematurely with spastic quadriplegia, which affects his whole body. The spasticity was once so severe that it was pulling Jesus’s bones from their sockets.

Doctors performed surgery on his hips two different times. Jesus was also taking oral baclofen medication 3 times a day before they decided to get the pump.

“It was overwhelming,” Corinna said of those efforts to control his spasticity. “It wasn’t really doing anything.”

The baclofen pump is different from oral medication because it injects medicine directly into the fluid around the spinal cord. Because the pump delivers a smaller dosage of medicine, patients may have fewer side effects than when taking oral medication.

“My goal was for him to be able to sit on his own without support,” Corinna said.

As for Jesus, he wasn’t scared about the procedure.

“He’s not afraid of anything,” Corinna said. “He was looking at it from a positive perspective.”

Jesus now has more control over his hands and is more independent. He brushes his teeth and dresses by himself. Corinna says that as a teenager, he is proud to be able to do things for himself. His main goal is to graduate from Fruitport middle school. In the meantime, Jesus enjoys playing the Wii, riding his bike, and swimming.

“He’s a today type of person,” Corinna said.

Both Kordell and Jesus are happy that they can enjoy being kids without their spasticity getting in the way.

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