Chinese teenager Fu Wengui, 16, has an abnormally long neck that causes him severe pain and difficulty moving. His father reports that he was born with ten vertebrae in his neck, while a healthy person has only seven. The boy is currently scheduled to receive surgery to correct his abnormally long neck, though it is unclear what surgeon’s plan to do to shorten his neck without causing damage to his spine.
Fu Wengui was diagnosed with congenital scoliosis and an abnormal chest frame at the age of six. Congenital scoliosis is a rare disorder in which a person is born with a curved or twisted spine. Congenital scoliosis can cause the spine to curve to one side, resulting in uneven posture, but in more severe cases such as Fu Wengui’s, it can put pressure on the spinal cord and cause difficult movement. While early childhood scoliosis is common, congenital scoliosis means that the person develops the disorder in the womb. Scoliosis is often not detected until early childhood or even adolescence.
Multiple Skeletal Abnormalities
Wengui’s father reports that the young man has difficulty walking with his condition, which could be due to a number of complications of congenital scoliosis, including rib cage malformation and spinal stenosis. Fu Wengui has apparent spinal stenosis, a condition in which vertebrae or surrounding structures put pressure on the spinal cord.
Spinal stenosis causes shooting pain, tingling, and numbness in the extremities. Stenosis can interfere with the nerves serving his limbs. Since Fu Wengui experiences stenosis in the cervical (neck) vertebrae, all of his limbs are affected by this condition. Stenosis can also occur in the lower parts of the spine (the thoracic and lumbar regions), and in those cases, only the lower extremities are affected.
No Treatment could be Considered Typical
Stenosis is usually treated through physical therapy that strengthens the muscles in the back so they can properly support and align the parts of the spine. Surgery for typical cases of scoliosis involves external bracing and/or implanted rods to bring the spine into the desired position.
Because Wengui’s condition is extremely unusual, traditional methods of treatment are not likely to be effective. In fact, traditional surgery for cervical stenosis, cervical laminectomy, is not necessarily the correct choice in this case.
How can a Neck be Shortened?
It is not clear exactly how the doctors will shorten Fu Wengui’s neck. Wengui’s surgeons cannot cut his spinal cord in any way, nor can they simply remove the extra three vertebra to make his neck the normal length. Aggressive treatment would leave Fu a quadri plegic or perhaps kill him.
It is likely that the surgeons will employ a progressive approach to Wengui’s condition. He will require multiple surgeries to shorten his neck a little bit at a time. His abnormal chest frame will likely be addressed with external bracing once the neck surgery is completed.
A Beijing-based charity has agreed to sponsor his surgery, and his doctors are currently working on a treatment plan that will be safe enough to prevent further damage to his spinal cord. Fu Wengui has stated that his condition causes significant pain when he moves. Pain relief will be the top goal of hisspine surgeons, while improving function where possible.