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Q&A: St. Louis Neurosurgeon Explains Impact of Halting Elective Surgeries

Q&A: St. Louis Neurosurgeon Explains Impact of Halting Elective Surgeries

Dr. T.S. Park, director of the St. Louis Children’s Hospital Center for Cerebral Palsy Spasticity, pioneered a neurosurgery called selective dorsal rhizotomy for children with cerebral palsy. This life-changing surgery increases mobility and allows some patients to walk for the first time.

Park says he sees patients from about 80 countries and all 50 states, and those patients were still coming when the coronavirus first arrived in Missouri. He obtained approval from Washington University in St. Louis’ medical school to do a few more surgeries before all elective surgeries halted.

Several international families have had to stay in St. Louis while travel restrictions are in place. Park’s team and the hospital’s interpreter services team have been supporting families as they settle into their “new normal” miles away from home.

Ladue News spoke with Park in late April about how COVID-19 has affected his work and the lives of those who traveled to the U.S. for surgeries. The following Q&A has been minimally edited for clarity and brevity.

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How has your work been affected by the pandemic?

After elective surgeries were banned, I had no work to do, so I’m staying home. I have been practicing [medicine] for many years, many decades, and I’ve never seen this kind of thing.

I have a very long surgery wait list for patients, especially international patients. They wait for about two years to come here for surgery. They have to buy the airplane tickets; they have to arrange accommodations. [They were coming in] March, April, May and June, and they had to cancel and reschedule [appointments]. They are anxious to have the surgery done, and [patients] need the surgery. We cannot wait for a long time because they just continue to get worse.

Is there anything that the public can do to help you get back to caring for children with cerebral palsy?

I think all the public can do is, basically, wash your hands, don’t touch your face a lot, wear masks and do reasonable social distancing. My guess would be we have to continue [these precautions] for months, if not years, until we have some treatment, medicine or vaccine. This virus doesn’t look like it will disappear all of a sudden.

What would you say is something that encourages you or gives you reason to hope?

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Maxsym Atamaniuk is a patient of Dr. T.S. Park who underwent the selective dorsal rhizotomy neurosurgery earlier this year.

I work at the St. Louis Children’s Hospital, and [among] children, the infection rate is so, so low. I think we'll be able to provide the service if we have enough personal protective equipment, so I look forward to going back and taking care of the patients. There are coronavirus patients [in need of care], but also there are many other patients we need to take care of, too.

In the war on COVID-19, countless health care workers are battling this coronavirus in different ways each day. Pick up a copy of Ladue News’ May 15 issue or click here to read more about those fighting COVID-19 in the metro area.

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