NEW YORK (AP) – As surgeons spoke to the press Thursday about their battle against a tumor that was strangling Aidan Fraser’s spine, the 6-year-old boy was addressing a separate gathering.

“He’s got his Power Rangers and his teddy bears lined up on his bed, and he’s talking, smiling,” said Dr. Adam Levy, who had just visited the boy. “He was moving easily and with less pain. His mother said he had his best night in a long, long time.”

Even Aidan’s voice, which had been constricted by the same tumor, was stronger, said Dr. Richard Smith.

Aidan, whose father died five years ago in the World Trade Center attack, is halfway through his surgery at the Children’s Hospital at Montefiore Medical Center. A tumor caused by neurofibromatosis, or NF, had caused a grotesque twist in his upper spine, overstretching his spinal cord. Doctors said that without an operation, the occasional paralysis he was experiencing would likely become permanent.

On Wednesday, surgeons cut into Aidan’s neck, carefully cleared the tumor away from the twisted spine and drilled away three vertebrae and part of a fourth to relax the spinal cord within.

Then they took bone grafts from Aidan’s rib to bridge the resulting gap in the spinal column and stabilize it.

Another daylong operation is planned for next week to brace the spine further, this time from the back.

Levy, a pediatric oncologist who brought the Frasers to Montefiore and coincidentally was a high school classmate of Aidan’s father, said Aidan’s mother, Suzanne Fraser, “looks like a different person today, much more relaxed” than she was during Wednesday’s eight-hour operation. Aidan is her only child.

Dr. Rick Abbott, a pediatric neurosurgeon and head of the operating team, said that while NF is not uncommon, he had never seen – “and most doctors never will” – a case like Aidan’s with a large tumor twisting the spine.

“There was no manual” on how to deal with such a case, so specialists in tumors, spines, necks, plastic surgery and neurosurgery drew up a plan, he said.

The biggest challenge was getting through the tumor without damaging the nerves, blood supply and air supply that run through it. The tumor is noncancerous and only a tiny fraction of it was removed, but it had to be gently pushed away from the spine. Smith, the neck surgeon, said he had to keep an eye out for the carotid artery, the jugular vein and breathing and swallowing tubes.

Dr. John Houten, the spine surgeon, said he used magnifiers to drill away the third, fourth and fifth vertebrae to relax the spinal cord, then drilled away part of the sixth to accommodate the bone graft.

Dr. David Staffenberg, the plastic surgeon who fashioned the graft, said more grafts will likely be needed for next week’s surgery, and they can be taken from a rib on the other side. He took two 10-centimeter lengths of rib on Wednesday and not all of it was needed, so he “banked it” by putting it back in the rib area for use next week, he said.

Even if next week’s surgery is successful, Aidan will have to continue wearing a “halo” stabilizer for at least a few months, the doctors said. But they expect him to thrive once he heals and the bone grafts begin to grow with him.

However, they noted they have not cured his NF and he may have more problems later in life.

“Aidan will grow up and be an adult,” Abbott said. “But I can’t say how often we’ll have to go in.”

AP-ES-11-09-06 1444EST

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