Tuberculosis is rampant in Sierra Leone and can spread quickly, infecting the spine along with other organs. Furthermore, spinal deformities such as scoliosis and congenital spinal problems go undiagnosed and untreated, due to a lack of programs and facilities to assess the population.
In 2003, Tom ran into a young man afflicted by spinal scoliosis. It was constricting his chest cavity, putting pressure on his heart and reducing his ability to breathe. He sent the young man to Ghana, where surgery to straighten his torso was done by the Foundation of Orthopedics and Complex Spine (FOCOS). Since then Africa Surgery has sent FOCOS 188 more patients from Sierra Leone, plus one each from Guinea, Tanzania, and Uganda. They all received complex spinal surgery for conditions such as scoliosis, trauma fracture, spinal stenosis, and tuberculosis infection of the spine. The majority of these surgeries have been extremely successful, with many miraculous results.
Tuberculosis is easily spread by coughing and not only affects a victim’s lungs, but often settles on other parts of the body. A common form of this extra-pulmonary TB invades a victim’s spine, deteriorating one or more vertebrae and causing a deformity known as kyphosis fracture. Also known as Pott’s Disease, this is usually a very painful condition and often leads to paralysis below the point of fracture. Between 2004 and 2018, 88 children and 23 adults operated by FOCOS were victims of Potts disease. While TB is cured with a daily regimen of medications for six to eight months, the FOCOS team additionally cleaned the remaining infection from the affected vertebrae and inserted titanium implants to straighten the spine as much as possible and prevent any further collapse or deformity from occurring.
In 2018 Africa Surgery began treating victims of Pott’s Disease in a less invasive and less costly manner by fitting them with back braces, plus regimens of anti-TB medications. Since then this approach has been applied to 26 patients, mostly young children, all with positive results. Patients currently being sent to FOCOS in Ghana are mostly post-operative patients going back for surgical revisions, or for treatment of spinal conditions other than Pott’s Disease.