SLU Hospital announces increase in number of minimally-invasive spinal procedures performed

With the recent launch of the Neurosurgical Spine Program at Saint Louis University Hospital's Center for Cerebrovascular and Skull Base Surgery, the hospital has seen a dramatic increase in the number of minimally-invasive spinal procedures, including lumbar spinal fusion surgery. Designed to stop the motion at a painful vertebral segment, this procedure is traditionally performed via a large incision on the back, stripping vital muscles away from the spine. However, the emergence of minimally-invasive neurosurgical techniques is revolutionizing spinal surgery.

Kurt M. Eichholz, M.D., a neurosurgeon at SLU Hospital and director of the hospital's Neurosurgery Spine Program, recently performed a minimally-invasive lumbar spinal fusion of lumbar segments L4 and L5 via a one-inch incision on a 54-year-old male patient.

The patient - Lon Weaver, a trial attorney from Alton, Ill. - had been experiencing constant, unrelenting back and leg pain that affected his walking and standing abilities. In fact, he could no longer stand for more than one minute before succumbing to the excruciating pain. Daily activities, including work and even trips to the grocery store, became quite limited. Mr. Weaver was referred to Dr. Eichholz by his primary care physician in August 2009. Despite a pre-existing heart condition, he was cleared for surgery in September. Mr. Weaver was found to have a spondylolisthesis, or slip of L4 on L5. In this condition, the L4 vertebral body is offset by approximately 25 percent on the L5 vertebral body, causing compression of the nerve roots, and severe back and leg pain.

Through a small incision just off the midline of the spine, Dr. Eichholz removed the joint and disc between L4 and L5, and placed a graft filled with Mr. Weaver's own bone into the disc space. Once the graft was in the proper position, pedicle screws were placed into L4 and L5 to hold the segment rigid while the bone fuses. Mr. Weaver was discharged home just two days after surgery and returned to work one week later. He has not experienced any immediate postoperative complications, and quickly resumed all of his normal activities with ease, including some light jogging just nine weeks after surgery.

"There is mounting evidence about the benefits of minimally-invasive spinal surgery," says Dr. Eichholz. "In addition to the aesthetic benefits, the average infection rate (0.22 percent) with minimally-invasive surgery is far lower than the average rate (2 to 5 percent) associated with traditional open surgery."

The goals of minimally-invasive spine fusion surgery systems include:
•Reduced postoperative pain
•Diminished blood loss
•Smaller requirement for narcotic pain medications
•Faster recovery and reduced hospital stay
•Smaller scars.

"I am so thankful for having undergone this particular procedure," says Mr. Weaver. "I couldn't believe how simple and effective it was. More importantly, I no longer have the pain that I had before."

Saint Louis University Center for Cerebrovascular and Skull Base Surgery recently added an advanced neurosurgical spinal program, further expanding its suite of comprehensive, specialized services and giving referring physicians and patients better treatment options and improved outcomes.

In the last few years, minimally-invasive surgical techniques have revolutionized nearly every traditional surgical procedure performed. Under the direction of its fellowship-trained director Dr. Eichholz, the Center's Neurosurgery Spine Program employs the latest minimally-invasive surgical techniques, which have proven to reduce hospital stays, narcotic requirements, and recovery time.

The Neurosurgery Spine Program is greatly supported by Dr. Eichholz's ongoing research efforts. He has been widely published on various spine-related topics, including minimally-invasive spinal surgical techniques, microendoscopic spinal surgery, minimally-invasive scoliosis surgery, minimally-invasive spinal tumor resection, vertebroplasty, management of thoracolumbar burst fractures, vertebral column tumors and spinal biomechanics. He has lectured extensively throughout the country on topics related to minimally-invasive spinal surgery.

This Neurosurgery Spine Program is just one more way that Saint Louis University Hospital is offering patients greater hope through innovation, the experience of a highly trained team and the vast resources and technology currently available.

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