New technology makes spine surgery more precise

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Thursday, October 29, 2015
New technology makes spine surgery more precise
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Doctors at St. Mary's Medical Center recommended a new procedure to reposition a man's spine after he was experiencing severe back problems.

SAN FRANCISCO (KGO) -- A Bay Area hospital is turning to new technology for complicated back surgeries. The procedure allows them to control delicate movements with robotic precision.

Gene Hogenauer loves to hike with his family. But for the last several years, a severe back problem was threatening to close that road for good. "I tried many different treatments including exercise, yoga, acupuncture," Hogenauer said.

James Zucherman, M.D., is the director of the spine center at St. Mary's Medical Center in San Francisco and he said surgeons recommended a procedure to reposition Hogenauer's spine. "We usually grab the vertebrae with screws actually, similar to wood screws. But with the screws, ideally we want to be in the perfect position," Zucherman said.

To place as many as a dozen tiny screws, the St. Mary's Medical Center team turned to a specialized guidance system by Mazor Robotics. Before the procedure even starts, computer software generates a 3D map of the spine and then calculates the precise trajectory. "And it's very accurate, especially with scoliotic or crooked vertebrae, the changes in the angle is different in each vertebrae," Zucherman said.

During a procedure that lasts several hours, the St. Mary's Medical Center team places screws then uses them to grip and straighten the spine.

Zucherman said the precise calculations allow surgeons to use the largest screws possible for added strength. "It really does a superlative job of putting the fixation exactly in the right place," Zucherman said.

For Hogenauer, the surgery to straighten his back has opened up a new path into the future full of adventure. "I actually went kayaking, biking also, which I like to do around the city," Hogenauer said.

Written and produced by Tim Didion.