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Minimally Invasive Back Surgery

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Posted 10/13/2014

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To contact the spine center at The Nebraska Medical Center, call 1-800-922-0000 or visit http://www.nebraskamed.com.

Slipped or ruptured discs affect thousands of people, causing them back and leg pain. The injuries often mean a change in lifestyle. That's what happened to Bob Harty of Nebraska. A bulging disc in his back had kept him away from his favorite hobby for three years.

A slipped disc is a fairly common cause of back and leg pain. It struck Harty in the mid 1990s. He had two surgeries to try and repair the problem and things were looking up; for a while.

"The surgeons back then told me, 'You're 39 years old. We don't really want to fuse the spine now if we can wait. Let's see if technology catches up to your problem,'" Harty recalled. "For about eight years, I was OK."

When his pain returned, Harty was miserable; unable to do basic chores around the house, unable to play golf; unable to tolerate the four hour car ride to South Dakota to visit his mother.

That's when he realized technology had caught up with his back problem.

"I went to my doctor to get a referral to see a surgeon," Harty said. "He sent me to see Dr. Lennarson."

Peter Lennarson, MD, neurosurgeon at The Nebraska Medical Center and director of the hospital's spine center met with Harty and explained a minimally invasive surgical approach called AxiaLIF.

"The traditional surgical approach to removing the disc and fusing the spine involves accessing the spine from the front, through an incision in the abdomen," explained Dr. Lennarson. "If more work is required on the patient from the back, they are moved to a different operating table, laid on their stomach and another incision is made in the back."

With the AxiaLIF approach, Dr. Lennarson is able to make on small incision near the patient's tailbone.

"Through that small incision we are able to create a channel into the spine to get access to that disc," Dr. Lennarson said. "We use a tool to remove the disc and then through a very small tube, put in a bone graft to replace the disc. We then use a threaded rod to fix the bones together."

"The surgery was an absolute success," Harty said with a smile. "I think I knew it the minute I woke up. I was only in the hospital a couple days. I was up walking the afternoon of the surgery."

The AxiaLIF surgery takes less time to perform than a traditional open surgery. Its minimally invasive approach typically results in fewer complications after surgery. Even with these advantages, Dr. Lennarson cautions, it is not a procedure for everyone.

"We have to consider things like a patient's anatomy; everyone is different," Dr. Lennarson said. "It has to be planned very carefully to make sure it is a safe and effective treatment."

Months after the completion of his AxiaLIF surgery, and years after his back pain began, Bob Harty is again looking forward to the arrival of spring.

"On my last appointment with Dr. Lennarson, I brought up golf," Harty said. "He said, 'I'm not going to say no, but with the twisting involved, you should wait 9-12 months."

Harty decided to wait the full 12 months to get back to one of his favorite pastimes. One year to the day after his surgery, Bob Harty picked up his golf clubs and headed out to welcome the arrival of spring, and what he felt like is his second life.

It did not feel like spring when Bob Harty hit the golf course. Forty degrees and spitting rain was not ideal golf weather. But nothing would keep Harty from making this tee time.

"That shot was three years in the making," Harty said after teeing off. "A lot of anticipation."

"It sure feels good. I had given up the thought of playing again," Harty said.

Music credit: "Continue Life" by Kevin MacLeod www.incompetech.com