Doug Robinson: Hoops star Mikey Jacobsen is fighting back

Published: Tuesday, Dec. 25 2012 11:45 p.m. MST

"(Sports) was important to Mikey, and we didn't know what the prognosis was," says Eric. "Doctors were saying he would be able to hike and bike; that's not what we were looking for."

Crandall was determined to return Mikey to his old life, with one concession: no more football. A return to basketball was a possibility.

Surgeons straighten the spine by anchoring it to titanium rods with screws, but it is a tricky business. There are risks of paralysis or screws tearing through the bone.

"We correct and straighten the spine as much as we can do it safely," Crandall says.

It is indicative of Crandall's dedication and sense of mission that during his 25-minute commute to and from work, he turns off the radio and music so he can think about "what problems I am seeing, how I can solve them and what I can do better." During these drives he pondered one particular problem — how to do a better job in the correction of scoliosis without incurring too much risk.

Says Crandall, "You hold your breath when you make the correction — that the screws won't tear out and that the spine would work. There's nothing that scares you more than the possibility of paralysis. You have an otherwise healthy teenager and the thought of coming out of surgery with paralysis is terrible."

It was during his daily commute that Crandall came up with the idea for a method to assist the procedure — a device and method that would make equal corrections to the spine yet put less stress on the structure. He took the idea to engineers at a company called Medtronic, and the instrumentation became a reality.

As Crandall explains, "You bend the rod like you want the spine to look and then anchor it to it and gradually pull the spine over, while using 60 percent less stress on the spine itself than anything else available."

During a three-hour operation, Crandall used his instrumentation to make corrections to Jacobsen's spine. He used two 12-inch titanium rods to span the 11 vertebrae that were part of the 70-degree curvature and attached those 11 vertebrae to the rods with 15 screws and two hooks.

"The curved vertebrae were slowly and gently brought back into an improved and straightened position and ultimately attached to the two rods," says Crandall. "That correction was done slowly over about 30 minutes." During the procedure, he fused 10 vertebrae in Jacobsen's upper back, but was able to leave open the five vertebrae below it. Those five vertebrae are the source of most of a person's flexibility.

For three weeks, the Jacobsens lived in Crandall's home while Mikey — who was unable to sit — recovered. The first thing Mikey and his friends noticed when he returned home was that the straightening of his spine had made him taller. During a three-hour operation he "grew" more than 2 inches, to 5-foot-11.

For the next six months he was forbidden from activity as he continued his recovery. "I wasn't even allowed to pick up more than five pounds," says Mikey. "I couldn't carry (a jug of) milk. I had to be catered to. I was not allowed to bend or twist. I had to have my brothers help me get dressed. All I could do was walk — that was my exercise — and play Xbox. When I got in bed, I had to sit down and then lie down with no rotation."

After six months he started easing back into activity and rebuilding strength, with the help of personal trainer Matt Neve. In the fall he participated in an open gym with the school's other basketball players and was gassed after two trips up the floor. "I had to sit down," he said. In the weight room, he had to start over. "I couldn't even lift the bar, with no weights on it," he says. "I had been lifting for years and I had no strength left. Every muscle had gone flat."

Says Neve, "When he came back he was weak — and even before (the surgery) he was weak. Having a spine shaped like it's supposed to is an integral part of where strength and power come from. His balance was horrible. He had steel rods down the side of his spine. In athletics the ability to flex and twist is critical to balance. He would fall or get knocked over easily (on the court)."

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