Thursday, June 18, 2020

By News and Internal Communications

RIO GRANDE VALLEY, TEXAS – Dr. Michael T. Lago, pediatric orthopaedic surgeon for UT Health RGV, has partnered with the Edinburg Children’s Hospital to locally treat adolescent scoliosis patients, with an innovative process called halo-gravity traction.

Halo-gravity traction is a procedure that, as a preparation for spinal surgery, increases the flexibility of the spine in patients with severe scoliosis by securing a ring (the halo) to the patient’s head and connecting it to a pulley or spring system.

Over the course of several weeks, the stretching force is increased either through the addition of weights or by increasing the tension of the spring system. The gradual traction works to increase the flexibility of the spine and surrounding tissue, thus making the surgery easier, and safer.

Randey Sosa, 15, of Sullivan City, was born with numerous orthopaedic conditions, including congenital scoliosis.

“When my son was born, the doctors told me he had hip dysplasia from the way he was positioned in the womb,” said Patricia Acosta, Randey’s mother. “This led to other health issues over the years, including severe scoliosis, breathing problems, digestive problems, sleeping issues, and being wheelchair bound. It disturbed his quality of life.”

Randey was evaluated by multiple surgeons across Texas, and while some surgeons felt his deformity was too severe for intervention, Acosta was hopeful after meeting with doctors in Dallas. However, the trip to Dallas was not possible at the time.

The family had almost given up hope, until they learned about Lago, UT Health RGV’s pediatric orthopaedic and scoliosis surgeon. Not only did he specialize in what Randey needed, he was located in the Rio Grande Valley.

Suddenly, Acosta said, they had hope again.

After reviewing Randey’s X-rays, Lago recommended pre-operative halo traction prior to a final scoliosis surgery.

“We had no idea what halo-gravity traction was,” Acosta said. “Dr. Lago explained this process, how the halo-gravity traction procedure could improve his scoliosis and make it easier on his recovery.

“We were so happy to hear about this option for our son but even happier that it could be done right here in our hometown, right here in the Rio Grande Valley,” she said.


Lago said the ability to provide healthcare procedures like halo-gravity traction in the Valley is significant.

“From an orthopaedic standpoint, patients are going to receive the same care available in Houston, Dallas, or any other specialty center,” he said. “In addition, we’ve now eliminated the financial burden of receiving medical care elsewhere. The Valley is home, and keeping patients here – near their families and support networks – is the primary goal.”

The halo-gravity traction procedure can take several weeks, depending on the severity of the case. Pediatric patients remain in the hospital during the course of their treatment to allow doctors to monitor progress. During that time, their nutritional status and pulmonary function are optimized; they participate in daily exercise and various therapies; and, a teacher comes to assist with schoolwork.

“A halo-gravity traction program requires a team of medical professionals working together to care for the patient,” Lago said. “Orthopaedic surgeons, pediatric hospitalists, therapists, nurses, dieticians and more. Being able to provide a service like halo-gravity traction signals to the medical community in our region that we have the infrastructure required to treat children with more severe forms of scoliosis. From a pediatric orthopaedic and scoliosis perspective, this increases the level of specialized care available through UT Health RGV, and brings us closer to becoming a specialty center.”

Acosta said that team of healthcare providers created a welcoming environment and an overall positive experience during the three months Randey was under their care as an inpatient at Edinburg Children’s Hospital.

“We know our son was in good hands,” Acosta said. “From the therapists, nurses, doctors, they have all helped us and made sure Randey is happy during this difficult period. We have come to know them.”

Lago said he makes sure his multidisciplinary team focuses on the importance of the patient’s experience.

“They can have world-class medical care, the surgery can go perfectly, and they can have an excellent outcome,” he said. “But if the patient and family had a poor experience during their time in the hospital, the program is going to fail. A lot of these patients are teenage boys and girls, and we have to do things to keep them happy, so that it becomes a more enjoyable experience.”

They all meet regularly to review the patient’s progress, and address any medical needs identified, as they did with Randey. This included not just meetings, but also practice runs with the surgical team, anesthesia providers and implants representatives, to ensure any potential problems were identified and accounted for prior to the day of surgery.

“We practice until we can’t get it wrong,” Lago said. “It’s important, because the efficiency and accountability of the surgical team improve safety and postoperative outcomes.”

The scoliosis service is relatively new at Edinburg Children’s Hospital, but the comfort and confidence of the team caring for the young patients continues to grow, Lago said.

“We've done multiple scoliosis surgeries here. We started off with smaller curves and gradually increased the level of difficulty. We now feel comfortable treating more severe spinal deformities that require advanced surgical techniques,” he said.

For Randey, who had the scoliosis surgery he needed after halo-gravity traction, the quality of his life has improved and his parents are happy with the results. 

“The surgery went smoothly,” Acosta said. “He is now breathing better, his posture has improved, he no longer requires a wheelchair for mobility. He sleeps better, he drinks better, his digestive system is better.

“He’s ready to move on with his life.”


The University of Texas Rio Grande Valley (UTRGV) was created by the Texas Legislature in 2013 as the first major public university of the 21st century in Texas. This transformative initiative provided the opportunity to expand educational opportunities in the Rio Grande Valley, including a new School of Medicine, and made it possible for residents of the region to benefit from the Permanent University Fund – a public endowment contributing support to the University of Texas System and other institutions.

UTRGV has campuses and off-campus research and teaching sites throughout the Rio Grande Valley including in Boca Chica Beach, Brownsville (formerly The University of Texas at Brownsville campus), Edinburg (formerly The University of Texas-Pan American campus), Harlingen, McAllen, Port Isabel, Rio Grande City, and South Padre Island. UTRGV, a comprehensive academic institution, enrolled its first class in the fall of 2015, and the School of Medicine welcomed its first class in the summer of 2016.