Medical Marvels: New surgical technique to ease severe back pain

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Denise Buist recovered from debilitating back pain thanks to a new minimally invasive technique at New York Presbyterian Hospital called AIRO. (WABC)

Eyewitness News is taking you inside Manhattan's New York-Presbyterian Hospital for a look at some extraordinary stories that we call Medical Marvels. It's WABC's Emmy-nominated digital series exclusive to 7online.

Denise Buist suffered debilitating back pain for years. She tried many treatment options including acupuncture, injections and physical therapy. Nothing helped.

"I had severe sciatica," she said. "It was to the point where I couldn't even get out of bed in the mornings. I couldn't stand very long. I couldn't sit very long. I couldn't do anything for a long period of time. And when I say a period of time, I mean five or ten minutes. It had gotten to be that severe."

Everything turned around for Denise when she was sent to Dr. Roger Hartl at New York Presbyterian Hospital. Dr. Hartl told her she had a severe compression of the spinal nerves.

"She also had an unstable condition in her lumbar spine. She had a condition known as Spondio-sentithis, where one bone has slipped forward on top of the other," said Dr. Hartl. "And that tends to slowly get worse over the years.. It can cause a lot of pain and it can even cause paralysis."

Denise needed a lumbar decompression and fusion procedure. The invasive surgery normally requires a long incision in the lower back and a long recovery.

"The risk of that operation, however in order to treat the problem, we have also cause a fair amount of injury and damage to the spine, to the bones to the muscles, tendons, which are all structures that are important to patients in their recovery," said Dr. Hartl.

But he offered Denise a new surgical technique that would not require a large incision. It's called AIRO, a minimally invasive technique that utilizes GPS technology and a CAT scan.

"It's a 3 dimensional GPS system that allows us to navigate very accurately and very precisely within the spine, even though we're operating through very small incisions," said Dr. Hartl. "We equip the tools that we use with a little sensor. You're operating on the patient but on the screen you see exactly where you are within the spine. We're really at the forefront of minimally invasive spinal surgery. Patients benefit from this because they recover much faster from these operations than they would have a few years ago."

"When I woke up five hours after the surgery I had no more sciatica pain," Denise said. "It scared me because I haven't been pain-free for over a decade. Life is real good. It's extremely good. You know I'm blessed."

Within weeks, Denise was back to doing all the activities she loves. Back pain no longer defines her life.

"I'm so grateful for this new technology that the doctor performed on me. And I've got my life back. There's not enough hours in the day for me because there's so much I want to do now," she said.

For more information on Dr. Hartl, visit:
http://nyp.org/physician/rhartl

Related Topics:
healthmedical marvelshealthmedicalnew york presbyterian hospital
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