Two years ago, my wife Carol Ann and I were deep in the throes of planning a move to Africa for a missionary assignment. Then one visit to the pediatrician threw us for a curve—literally.
We thought we were just being paranoid first-time parents, but couldn’t help but notice a curvature in our son Mason’s spine. We took him to our pediatrician just to ease our fears, but soon learned that he had a rare case of scoliosis and a spine that was already curved 35 degrees. We discussed our options, scoured the Internet for more information and stumbled upon a treatment called spinal, or Mehta, casting.
Only a handful of doctors offer spinal casting in the U.S., and our local orthopaedist in Winston-Salem, N.C., referred us to Dr. Nicholas Fletcher at Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta. As we talked with Dr. Fletcher, we learned that the technique uses a lightweight plaster cast to guide the spine out of its curve during the years when children are growing most rapidly.
On the day-to-day side, spinal casting meant no more bath time, a constant fear of rain and at least a year of creative diaper changes. For us, the superior medical results far outweighed the daily inconveniences.
As we geared up for Mason’s first casting on Nov. 1, 2012, we found stories about kids who had named their spinal casts and one set of parents who wrapped a cast in Bob the Builder duct tape. Maybe it was our lifelong love of comic books. Maybe it was the Halloween decor in our neighborhood. Regardless, we knew we could do better. By the time pre-op rolled around, we had a vision for Mason’s first Spider-Man “castume.”
When we arrived at the hospital, Dr. Fletcher asked if we had a preferred color for the cast. I told him our plan, and we settled on a blue cast with red accents. Three hours later, we got our first glimpse of 14-month-old Mason in the contraption he’d be wearing for the next 10-12 weeks.
With Mason weighing just 20 pounds at the time, the cast was one-fourth of his body weight. When he tried to sit up, he got a sense of how the cast would impact his mobility. And that’s what we call “the Moment.” Everything we’d been afraid would happen was happening. Mason was upset, and that made my wife upset.
We knew that we had one or two years of 24-hour casting ahead of us. We panicked right there in the hospital. Knowing we had to quickly turn something intolerable into something fun, we made a plan to visit Toys ‘R Us the next day.
We bought a mask, shirt and Spider-Man undies. It took a week or so, but Mason came to love his costume. He even took his first steps in that cast.
When the Spider-Man cast came off in January, it had taken an impressive 18 degrees out of his curve. That day, we brought home Batman Mason.
Two months later, we left with Green Lantern Mason. And in May, we had Iron Man Mason on our hands. Each time we finished a new castume, we’d get requests from friends, family and even Dr. Fletcher for a look at the finished product.
On Aug. 9, nine months after our casting journey began, the Iron Man costume came off and we learned his curve had dipped to just eight degrees. Most importantly, we graduated from a spinal cast to a removable brace.
Today, all four castumes line Mason’s room like a cabinetry of armor. Occasionally, he’ll ask to wear one, especially Iron Man. And occasionally he’ll tell people that he is Iron Man.