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U Neurosurgeons Implant First Spine Stabilizer

May 14, 2007 6:00 PM

Spinal Implant Gets Utahn Back On His Feet

Back pain is the most common cause of doctor visits in the United States, affecting eight out of 10 people sometime during their lives. Holladay resident Ernest Korgenski suffered from chronic leg and back pain because of spinal stenosis and degenerative scoliosis, conditions common in those over age 60 and a natural result of the aging process.

Korgenski, 80, was practically immobile for a year and a half. "I could only walk a few steps before the pain would set in," he says. "I would use the wall or a piece of furniture to stabilize me in order to move around."

In Korgenski's case, his spinal cord had narrowed, pinching nerves and causing constant leg pain. For most cases like his, the treatment has been one surgical option: fusion. While it does stabilize the spine, it restricts movement, such as twisting and bending.

Just last year less restrictive options that not only stabilize the spine but also preserve some motion have become available. And Korgenski became the first patient in the country to be implanted with the device known as the Stabilimax Bar Spine Stabilization System.

In November 2006, University Health Care neurosurgeon Andrew T. Dailey, M.D., associate professor of neurosurgery at the U, assisted by neurosurgeon Kenneth S. Yonemura, M.D., assistant professor of neurosurgery, performed the procedure at University Hospital. The Stabilimax consists of two screws and a connecting rod--all made of titanium--and a cobalt chrome alloy. The screws are placed into adjoining vertebrae on either side of the spine. The rod then slides through sleeves on top of the screws connecting the two sides. The vertebrae can then move independently, but the spine is stabilized and unable to move out of alignment, thus preserving motion.

According to Dailey, recovery from Stabilimax may require the same amount of time as recovery from fusion. However, patients can see results within a day or two. Korgenski's improvement was immediate.

"When I woke up [in the hospital], I walked to the bathroom without any pain in my legs," Korgenski remembers.

Now, only months after his procedure, he is walking without assistance from furniture, walls or even a walker.

"I was told the best thing I could do is walk," he says. "I can now bend over and touch the floor--pain free--and pick things up."

According to Dailey, patients can expect maximum recovery within six months to a year. He says Korgenski will have a full recovery.

"The doctor said I have the strongest bones for any 80 year old he's ever seen," Korgenski says.

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