History of the Rebecca Owen Spinal Trust

Millennium Bionic WalkIn 1980 John Dove was appointed as the North Staffordshire Hospital’s first orthopaedic spinal surgeon. At that time the standard method of correcting spinal deformity was by using Harrington rods developed in the 1960s in the USA. Although Paul Harrington’s system was an important development, it was relatively inefficient and was much improved by segmental fixation developed by Eduardo Luque in Mexico in the late 1970s. In 1981 John was awarded a travelling scholarship by the British Scoliosis Society to visit Dr. Luque and was much impressed by what he saw. On his return to the UK he began to use the same system and in 1982 used it to correct a severe congenital scoliosis in a two year old from Stoke-on-Trent, Rebecca Owen. At that time Rebecca was the youngest in the world to benefit from this new type of surgery.

Millennium Bionic WalkRebecca’s surgery attracted the attention of a noted fund raiser for good causes in Stoke-on-Trent, Alan Barlow. Alan worked for Northern Dairies and made the spinal service their nominated charity of the year which culminated in 1983 in Alan and John, together with a number of people from Northern Dairies, taking part in the Potteries’ Marathon. This resulted in £7,500.00 being raised as a result of which the Rebecca Owen Spinal Trust was created as a registered charity to support the work of our spinal service.

Thereafter as the result of further marathon efforts and other fund raising events, sufficient money was raised to create a purpose built laboratory for spinal research, the Bionic Workshop, which was run until recently by Dr Aziz Rahmatalla.

Although John was now in the early 1980s using Luque’s double rod segmental system for spinal deformity correction, he recognised that it had certain deficiencies that could be resolved by combining the two rods to form a rectangle. And so was born the Hartshill Rectangle. All the research development for this system was carried out in the Bionic Workshop but the commercial development was taken on by Surgicraft Ltd. who are based in Redditch. This resulted in a very happy collaboration. Unusually for a relatively small company they decided to help the labs researches by funding a research fellow to work in the laboratory. Thereafter a succession of ‘Surgicraft Research Fellows’ were appointed during the latter half of the 1980s and the first half of the 1990s. Each fellow would carry out both pure spinal research culminating in a postgraduate thesis and degree and research directly related to Surgicraft’s Hartshill system for the spine. The majority of the Surgicraft Research Fellows have gone on to become prominent spinal surgeons in their own rights.

The research carried out by the various research fellows has been internationally recognised. In the recent past one particular project won the prestigious biomechanics award of the European Spine Society.

Dr. Aziz Rahmatalla remains a key factor in coordinating all our research projects and he maintains a record of all our research projects.