Valley Care Clinics Pediatric Orthopedic Surgeon Specializing in Scoliosis
Dr. Michael Lago is a Valley Care Clinics pediatric orthopedic specialist specializing in scoliosis, hip problems and lower extremity deformities. He practices in McAllen, as well as the surrounding cities in the Rio Grande Valley. Dr. Lago is an accomplished surgeon with a passion for helping children. Our staff had the privilege of meeting with Dr. Lago to learn more about what it means to be a pediatric orthopedic surgeon and the difference he is making in the lives of Valley residents.
RGVision: Tell us a little about yourself.
Dr. Michael Lago: I was born and raised in Miami. I’m a first-generation American, my parents are Cuban. As far as education, I’ve trained at multiple places. I got my undergrad at Florida State, I did medical school here in Texas at the University of Texas at Houston. I did my residency — basic orthopedic training at the University of Florida at Tampa — and then my specialized training in pediatric spine and orthopedics was done at University of Utah at Shriners. Now I’m here in the Valley.
R: What’s unique about working here in the Valley? Why did you come here?
ML: One thing that makes the Valley unique is that it’s extremely underserved. It’s one of the only areas in the country where the birth rate is still going up as opposed to the rest of the country, where it’s slowing down, so there are a lot of opportunities and lots of patients who need help.
R: What drove you to be a pediatric orthopedic surgeon?
ML: I have a son with special needs.
R: Is there a moment that stands out to you as a physician? Something that changed the way you react to patients or with children?
ML: When I found out my son had special needs and the way he was treated. That left a huge impression on me and I wanted to be there for families whenever a hard diagnosis had to be delivered and I wanted to be available and I wanted to comfort them in their times of need.
R: When it comes to your specialty of pediatric orthopedics, what’s your passion?
ML: Within the field of pediatric orthopedics my passion is scoliosis. A close second is hip problems or lower extremity deformities but my true passion is scoliosis.
R: Can you describe scoliosis in layman’s terms?
ML: Scoliosis is a three-dimensional deformity in the spine that occurs at any age of childhood and sometimes even in some adults. But for kids, it happens most of the time when they’re growing. The most common form is the adolescent kind, which is discovered between ages 10 and 14.
R: Who does it happen to?
ML: Scoliosis is most commonly found in girls and most operated on in girls. I don’t know why it occurs most often in girls but it does happen in boys, as well.
R: What can parents notice in their child? When do they become cognizant that their child might have scoliosis?
ML: Here in the Valley, it’s easy to catch early because the children are usually wearing light clothing. In the north lots of kids go into winter normal and come out with scoliosis and the parents won’t know because children have been wearing sweaters all winter. But noticeable signs of scoliosis are when the child bends over they can notice if one side of the ribs are higher than the other or one shoulder is asymmetric or maybe even their torso shifted a little bit to the side.
R: Does it hurt? Will your child complain of pain?
ML: Sometimes they will complain of pain. Sometimes there’s no pain. Traditionally scoliosis itself is not associated with pain unless its curves are very extreme. Most of the pain that kids have when they have scoliosis are the same aches and pains that other children get as normal growing pains.
R: How is it diagnosed?
ML: First there’s a screening test: Adams Forward Bend Test. Basically, the patient bends over and you examine their back, you examine for symmetry of the spine itself to make sure that it’s in a straight line or not. You also look at the ribs and the torso. The way it’s confirmed is with X-rays.
R: How is it treated?
ML: Scoliosis has several treatments. The most common treatment is bracing if the patient is a candidate for that. But if the bracing fails and the patient has a curve over a certain magnitude, then they are eligible for surgery.
R: So is surgery the last option or is it a quality of life thing? Can this deformity be life-threatening or life-altering?
ML: So scoliosis itself can be life-limiting and life-altering. It can change the quality of life depending on the curve magnitude. If the curve gets big enough, it can impair pulmonary function and cardiac function. It can also cause pain, meaning limited quality of life in that matter.
R: It’s a pretty major surgery for a child. What’s the recovery time?
ML: The surgery is a major surgery — we’re operating on a child’s spine. The recovery depends on the actual child. Some children recover faster than others, but traditionally, I’ve gotten kids back to school within a month. After the first month they’re going to school part time for a couple weeks, then they gradually build up at two months or go completely back to their full school hours. If they play sports, usually at six months.
R: Can scoliosis affect anybody?
ML: Scoliosis is found in many families across all socioeconomic statuses.
R: Is it genetic?
ML: Like anything else, scoliosis is associated with genetics but questions are still being investigated by science.