Spinal 'Column': Love for Hunchback Dog, Breakthrough for 8-Yr-Old Girl

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shutterstock_355891904 Scoliosis via Shutterstock

A three-year old German Shepherd in Minnesota remains without a home. Sure, there are many animals in need of adoption these days, but Quasimodo is not your typical shelter dog. The canine is just one of thirteen known cases of animals suffering from a rare and bizarre disorder called short-spine syndrome.

Sharing the namesake of Victor Hugo's hunchback character, from his well known, 19th century novel "The Hunchback of Notre Dame," Quasimodo was rescued by Secondhand Hounds, an organization dedicated to caring for animals in need.

Initially, workers thought Quasi's condensed stature was attributed to the neglect and isolation endured during his early life. They questioned whether Quasi's spine failed to properly lengthen after being resigned to a small cage as a pup. It was only recently that they learned that the dog, from Eden Prairie, a small town just south of Minneapolis, actually suffered from a rare genetic disorder.

For a dog suffering from short spine, the vertebral column fails to harden properly to form bone. This results in compression of the vertebrae, and thus, severe shortening of the entire spine. Unfortunately, it cannot be fixed with surgery. Sometimes the vertebrae can even become fused, not only making the spine inflexible, but causing the animal's head to collapse into the shoulder blades.

Sara Anderson, the large-breed foster coordinator for Secondhand Hounds, said she was contacted to take Quasi because of her love of special-needs dogs.

Born different but never knowing any other way, he seeks to please the people who have shown him kind hands and warm hearts, Anderson said in an interview with WTVR.com (this link has pictures of Quasi).

So, essentially Quasimodo is like any other dog -- he can run, jump, play fetch and expect to live a relatively normal lifespan (both in human and dog years). He's just a little funny looking, but lovable. (But then again, isn't every dog?!)

Media coverage of Quasimodo, and his short-spine status, has garnered an outpouring of attention and support. He's currently sporting an impressive 50,000 friends -- and counting -- on his Facebook page.

But Quasimodo isn't the only one recently making spine-related headlines.


Mallory Smith, an eight-year-old girl from the town of Richfield, became the first person in the state to receive a ground-breaking new treatment to help manage her Marfan syndrome. The genetic disorder is characterized by poor connective tissue pervasive throughout one's body, resulting in a variety of problems but scoliosis, or curvature of the spine, is the most common ailment.

The treatment, called MAGEC, was approved by the Food and Drug Administration in 2014. It uses powerful, rare earth metals to facilitate the straightening of a crooked spine -- an unfortunate consequence of a Marfan diagnosis. According to its manufacturers, the metal rod used to brace the spine includes a small internal magnet, which allows the rod to be lengthened by an external controller. This means that, with the exception of the initial implant, there is no surgical maintenance involved for the patient.

According to Mallory's mother, Sandra Smith, it's proven to be a much less painful and invasive alternative to the titanium rods previously required to maintain the third grader's spinal integrity.

"There's a huge difference," Sandra tells the Journal Sentinel. "Instead of staying two to three nights in the hospital, it's a 15-minute procedure. She's not sedated. She can go about her day."

While short-spine syndrome is extremely rare and is specific to animals -- mostly dogs but it has also been seen in pigs -- Marfan syndrome is more prevalent afflicting about one in every 5,000 people.

So, there you have it. Two different, yet overlapping spine-related human interest stories from neighboring states in the northern midwest.