The Fast Track Back From Spine Surgery

Few things can stop humans in their tracks faster than a back and neck injury. So when an organization offers a spine surgery program that puts patients back on track toward a speedier, more productive recovery, news travels fast.

From the Delmarva Peninsula to southern Maryland and around the region, Anne Arundel Medical Center's Center for Spine Surgery is attracting more notice every day as a program with a unique, family-oriented approach toward getting people back on the road to recovery faster.

Center coordinator Lori Brady says AAMC is one of the first hospitals in the country to create such a center designated solely to spine surgery. "Spine centers are fairly new," she says. "But we had such success with our joint center that we thought we should do the same thing with our spine program. As a result, we've significantly reduced the amount of time patients are having to stay in the hospital after spine surgery. In the spine center, patients and their families are getting a lot more education and therefore going home earlier because they know more."

The Center for Spine Surgery, created in 1998 and located on the fourth floor of the Acute Care Pavilion of AAMC's medical campus, is an area within the hospital with only one type of patient in mind: spine surgery patients. All of the health care professionals in the center specialize exclusively in that area.

"Our neurosurgeons and orthopaedic surgeons are performing the latest surgical techniques for treating the spine," says Marshall Steele, M.D., an orthopaedic surgeon and medical director of AAMC's operating room. "A multidisciplinary conference is held weekly to plan upcoming surgeries. Computer navigation and new equipment keeps incisions small and improves accuracy. And our surgeons are respected throughout the country, standing at the forefront in the education of other surgeons in the advancements in spine surgery."

For example, neurosurgeon Brian Sullivan, a member of AAMC's medical staff and a partner in the Maryland Neurological Institute, recently received nationwide attention for a new clinical trial. The trial involves inserting a cervical disc prosthesis into the space between the patient's neck vertebra. The procedure, performed by only 20 sites nationwide, allows the patient to move his neck afterwards. Traditional treatment fuses the two vertebra together, leaving part of the neck permanently immobile.

"It's really the future of cervical spine surgery," says Dr. Sullivan. "The beauty of this device is that it not only repairs the condition but also permits the patient to move his neck freely." Interventional radiologist Tim Eckel, an AAMC medical staff member from Annapolis Radiology Associates, is performing vertebroplasty, a relatively new treatment in the United States for vertebral fractures being performed in only a few hospitals nationwide.

The procedure involves the injection of cement-like material, as a substitute for bone, into a collapsing vertebral body. The procedure is performed to reinforce fractured bone, alleviate chronic back pain and prevent further vertebral collapse, often caused by illnesses such as osteoporosis. The cement-like material stabilizes and strengthens the crushed bone.

"Spinal fractures are very common," Dr. Eckel says. "Sometimes they heal on their own, but when they don't, they can be very debilitating. Vertebroplasty is a procedure that has an estimated 90 percent success rate for relieving spinal pain. I do lots of procedures for treating spinal pain, and vertebroplasty is the most successful."

Orthopaedic surgeon Alessandro Speciale, M.D., also a member of AAMC's medical staff from the Orthopaedic and Sports Medicine Center, is currently performing kyphoplasty, which involves using a balloon to expand two vertebra apart and then filling the space with the cement-like material similarly used in vertebroplasty.

Just as important to a patient's recovery is his or her mental health which staff members at the spine center are tending to just as intently. On Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday evenings, the staff hosts a get-together to help encourage camaraderie in the center. "The patients can talk to each other and know that they are not alone in their recovery," Brady says.

Perhaps one of the biggest motivation tools at the spine center is the "back-track board." The board features race cars which represent each patient. As each patient accomplishes a physical step forward, the race car is moved forward to show how many feet the patient has walked.

"Patients can compare their progress to others who have undergone the same procedure," Brady says. "Not only does it show them where they want to be, but it inspires them to want to do better. It creates a fun and friendly rivalry among the patients and an overall positive environment, which we at the spine center think is the fastest road to good health." For more information about AAMC's Center for Spine Surgery, please call 443-481-1650 or call askAAMC at 443-481-4000 or 800-MD NURSE.

Margot Mohsberg is a resident of Eastport and the media relations associate for Anne Arundel Health System.


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