Pioneering Through the Evolution of Spine Surgery

The spine could be described as the body’s anchor. Connected to the skull at the top and the pelvis at the bottom, with the ribs curving forward to encase the heart, lungs and other organs, the spine serves as the anatomical foundation. What would life be like if that anchor was damaged? For 30 years, the debilitating pain of spine deterioration impacted every facet of Beverly Randall’s life until she met William D. Hunter, M.D., FAANS, neurosurgeon at Neuroscience and Spine Center of the Carolinas in Gastonia, NC, and discovered a minimally invasive remedy.

In 1970, when Randall was 21 years old, she was in a car that was hit from the side by a car running a red light. A year later — long after her bruises had healed — chronic pain stemming from spinal injuries caused by the accident became a daily reality. Over-the-counter medications and visits to chiropractors failed to treat the pain. Though several on-the-job falls in the deli department of a grocery store where Randall worked added to the increasing discomfort, she was steadfast in refusing surgery: her mother’s back surgery had been painful and unsuccessful.

After she had used habitual drinking to mask the constant pain, Randall found renewed strength in the Twelve Step program in 1980. However, she continued her search for a cure trying medications, hypnotherapy, traction, chiropractic care and acupuncture. Her physical well-being declined to the point that she was unable to sit, stand or walk without pain or work for a two-year period. Following a second car accident and no end to discomfort in sight, Randall received full disability benefits in 2006.

It was a fall in January 2010 — 40 years after her initial injury — that prompted her to seriously consider surgery. She saw Dr. Hunter in the same month and progressed through a course of ultimately unsuccessful conservative treatment. Randall underwent the minimally invasive eXtreme Lateral Interbody Fusion (XLIF) in November 2010, one day after her 30-year anniversary of sobriety.

“There’s been a lot of change in spine care over the last 10 years. The approach we as surgeons use is much different now from what I used in my training,” says Dr. Hunter. “The anatomy of the spine is the same, but our methods are far more minimally invasive.”

The Next Generation 
of Innovation

Seeing minimally invasive surgery to the ultimate level, Dr. Hunter uses the XLIF procedure to access the spine while bypassing the bone, nerve and soft tissue damage of conventional surgery and the road blocks of scar tissue from previous operations.

“The XLIF procedure is completely revolutionary,” says Dr. Hunter. “Accessing the spine through the side rather than the back allows us to reach the disks, nerves and bone safely. As such, this is a better-suited option for patients who have undergone multiple surgeries and experienced complications due to scoliosis or abnormal movement in their spines.”

From a patient’s point of view, the procedure offers the kind of benefits better suited to active living. With traditional back surgery, a patient would spend up to six hours in the operating room with the risk of losing up to two pints of blood. Following surgery, the patient would remain in the hospital for three to six days, regaining the ability to walk only after the third day.

In comparison, Dr. Hunter can complete an XLIF procedure in 30 minutes to an hour, significantly decreasing the risk of complications with a blood loss of only 5 cc. Patients spend one to three days in the hospital and are able to walk the same day. The return to normal activity is typically within four to six weeks.

In fact, one year after undergoing an XLIF procedure for degenerative disk disease, professional mixed martial arts fighter Nate Quarry won his comeback fight, and Hall of Fame basketball legend Bill Walton underwent XLIF surgery to successful treat back pain that stemmed from a college injury in 1974.

The Patient-Centric Approach

Randall needed just one night in the hospital before returning home after her XLIF procedure. A pain patch relieved the minimal postoperative pain, and she was able to cease all pain medication three weeks after her surgery. She was able to exercise her leg the second day following the XLIF procedure and found that a few weeks later she could lift her leg into the shower. Randall was on the road to restarting her life pain free.

Today, she is active with bike riding, yoga and sharing her experience through the patient advocacy program, The Better Way Back. Many of Dr. Hunter’s patients become patient ambassadors. Their work to promote the cause of minimally invasive spine surgery reaches those suffering from chronic back pain, as well as providers and insurers nationwide.

A Surgeon’s Steady Process

With today’s rapidly expanding field of minimally invasive surgery, where new techniques emerge every year, the landscape of spinal surgery is forever in motion. For surgeons, this can translate into the need for constant training. In addition to his work with the American Institute of Minimally Invasive Spine Surgery and training courses at Duke University Medical Center, Dr. Hunter routinely hosts surgeons from all over the United States to watch his procedures. He wears a video monitor during surgeries — which feeds to television screens located in each corner of the operating room — to better acquaint visiting physicians with the step-by-step surgical techniques.

Dr. Hunter and his colleagues see patients at the Neuroscience and Spine Center of the Carolinas office, while they perform operations at Gaston Memorial Hospital. The state-of-the-art facility dedicated to these patients is equipped with intra-operative computerized axial tomography and mapping technology and staffed by 
the same nurses and technicians who have been assisting the Neuroscience and Spine Center of the Carolinas in Gastonia, NC, 
for the past decade. These medical 
professionals are passing their expertise 
on to other nurses and technicians at 
Gaston Memorial Hospital, making for a continual teaching process for enhanced spinal care at each level.

“Each type of minimally invasive surgery has its own training, and an important element of a surgeon’s responsibilities is continuing to develop, learn and perform the most up-to-date techniques,” Dr. Hunter says. “I have a passion and devotion for a patient that has a spine concern and am dedicated to finding the appropriate remedy.”

To learn more about Neuroscience and Spine Center of the Carolinas in Gastonia, NC, or to refer a patient to Dr. Hunter, please call (704) 864-5550.




MD News September/October 2011, Greater Charlotte



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