High-tech equipment helps fix bone injuries

July 12, 2011 8:10:09 PM PDT
High-tech equipment is having a dramatic impact in one of the Bay Area's busiest trauma centers and it is allow surgeons to repair some of the most extreme bone injuries with a new level of precision.

Nobody likes looking at an unflattering picture of herself, but Jenna Quarne's case is more severe than most. The animation on the screen is a snap shot of her crushed pelvis.

The injury happened several weeks ago, when Quarne fell on her bicycle near the Muni tracks in San Francisco.

"I knew I had to get up, but I couldn't," Quarne said.

The multiple fractures were so severe that she was sent to the orthopedic trauma institute at San Francisco General Hospital where the facility employs sophisticated, computer guided technology to both plan and execute complicated repairs.

First, special software turns CAT scan images into a three-dimensional model of the fracture.

"I look at the non-broken side, then I flip the, or I mirror image it to the broken side; then I can plan how to pieces back together," Dr. Amir Matityahu said.

Sensors are then placed on the pelvis. Using infrared light beams, the computer software provides an interactive roadmap of the fragmented bones. It is precise enough to provide both location and correct angles for placing surgical hardware.

That precision is especially critical with pelvic fractures.

"The pelvis has corridors of bone that we can place hardware into," Matityahu said. "Those corridors are usually between four and 12 millimeters in diameter. The screws are about six millimeters in diameter."

In other words, leaving a razor thin margin of error.

And although it might not look like it, the result is a reconstruction that actually uses far less hardware than traditional methods.

"Normally we would put in more plates, so the screws are inside the bone instead of outside the bone, so patient never feels the hardware," Matityahu said.

Quarne began rehab shortly after the surgery. Now, she's hoping to be back at work as a delivery room nurse in a matter of weeks.

"I can't wait to get back to the moms and the babies," Quarne said.

Doctors say the computer guided system also delivers far less radiation to the patient because once the initial 3D image is created, surgeons do not have to keep photographing the area during the procedure.

Written and produced by Tim Didion

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