Pandemic leads to innovative approach to spinal fusion operations

Reporter: Amy Oshier
Published: Updated:

When hospitals paused elective surgeries during the pandemic many people were left in a whole lot of hurt.

That created an opportunity to find a way to perform complex operations in an outpatient setting.

Bill Banker looms large on the court, whether it’s pickleball or basketball, golf or running, the former college athlete is always on the move.

But repeated sports injuries that damaged his spine threatened to sideline him for good.

“I had to have diskectomy once had another diskectomy to relieve the pain. And the surgeons that did those surgeries said that, eventually, I was going to need a more serious surgery to correct it permanently,” Banker said.

In the midst of the pandemic, Banker realized it was time for a spinal fusion.

“I couldn’t walk 15 steps without almost buckling over,” he said.

As hospitals filled with COVID-19 patients, many elective surgeries were tabled.

Banker’s surgeon Jeffrey Henn decided to take a different approach. Skilled in minimally invasive spine procedures, he thought Banker was a great candidate to undergo spinal fusion as an outpatient.

“After we’d kind of perfected the smaller surgeries, then the question became, could we safely and reasonably treat somebody with a surgery as large as a lumbar fusion? And I think the simple answer is absolutely we can,” said Dr. Jeffrey Henn, a neurosurgeon at Joint Implant Surgeons of Florida in Fort Myers.

In Banker’s case, a collapsed disc compressed the nerve.

Fixing it required going into his back and adding spacers and screws to straighten and support the spine.

A major operation, Henn felt he could get the same outcome using small incisions.

“With the right anesthesia, with the right minimally invasive techniques, you essentially are now doing a big surgery and having somebody who’s comfortable enough that they can go home,” Henn said.

Using the less invasive approach and pain blocks that don’t involve opioids, Banker had his surgery. He went home hours after surgery and three months after major back surgery, he fully regained his bounce.

“The pandemic actually, I think, sped up the outpatient surgery for major spinal surgery. I think I was on the cusp of being a pioneer,” Banker said.

A traditional spinal fusion typically meant several days in the hospital recovering.

Going home the same day is actually a deciding factor for some people who might be toughing out pain and putting off surgery.

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