“I saw several doctors who looked at my images, expressed surprise I could still walk and suggested conventional back surgery. But after talking to Dr. Jiang, I knew he was the one, and his solution to my pain was much, much better.”
Advances in Minimally Invasive Spine Surgery
Providence St. Jude Becomes National Leader in Transforming Spine Surgeries
Shirley Chang stopped dancing five years ago. As her back pain continued to worsen, the ballroom dance champion would sit in her yard and simply visualize the steps. In fact, the pain from spinal stenosis steadily took away all the 84-year-old’s favorite things: dancing, days of shopping-till-you-drop and making dinner for friends and family.
“Every movement caused pain,” explains the Hacienda Heights resident and grandmother of five, who says she was afraid to have back surgery—until she met Bowen Jiang, MD, and heard about robotic spine surgery.
“I saw several doctors who looked at my images, expressed surprise I could still walk and suggested conventional back surgery,” she says. “But after talking to Dr. Jiang, I knew he was the one, and his solution to my pain was much, much better.”
Chang needed a laminectomy (to relieve compression on her spinal cord) and a fusion (to restore stability). Dr. Jiang, a neurosurgeon at Providence St. Jude, performed both in a single minimally invasive procedure that had Chang back to grocery shopping within days.
Fellowship-trained in minimally invasive and robotic spine surgery, Dr. Jiang used the ExcelsiusGPS robotic system to dramatically reduce the invasiveness of the surgery while improving its precision.
“This technology combines the benefits of state-of-the-art navigation, real-time 3D image guidance and robotics into one technology,” explains the Johns Hopkins–trained neurosurgeon, who is leading Providence St. Jude’s efforts to create one of the nation’s first dedicated robotic spine centers. “The result is far better visualization, access and maneuverability, allowing us to advance back surgery in ways that just weren’t possible before.”
Traditional back surgery requires exposing the spine to see the bony landmarks, leaving behind a 15-inch scar. With a robotic approach, the surgeon can separate muscles surrounding the spine rather than cutting through them—leaving behind a few Band-Aid-size incisions. This significant reduction in tissue damage means fewer complications, less pain and a far quicker recovery. Surgeries that normally require three to five days in the hospital are often reduced to an overnight stay.
“I didn’t even need a cane to walk into my house after I was discharged,” Chang reports. “Three weeks later, I was walking 4,000 steps a day. As soon as I can, I’ll be back dancing.”
In addition to spinal stenosis, Dr. Jiang is using the new technology to treat herniated disks, scoliosis, nerve compression, spinal tumors and trauma.
“Spine surgery often involves challenging anatomy and very difficult trajectories, yet the robotic system makes it far easier,” explains Dr. Jiang, who has performed more than 150 robotic spine procedures and trains surgeons throughout the western U.S. on using the technology to improve outcomes. “It brings us as close to perfect accuracy as can be achieved.”
The advantages of the system’s 3D modeling capabilities extend outside the surgical suite by making it possible for Dr. Jiang to preplan surgeries on a tablet.
“It allows me to think about and strategize a surgery beforehand,” he explains. “Patients don’t need to be on the table to visualize the entire surgical plan and problem-solve issues.”
Chang, who worked as an operating room nurse at Providence St. Jude before retiring in 2000, says she wasn’t surprised to find the most innovative approach to her back pain could be found only at St. Jude.
“The robot is new, but the excellence is the same,” she says. “St. Jude offers a culture that attracts some of the nation’s best doctors. It was true 20 years ago, and it’s still true today.”
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