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Tiny robot helps make spine surgery safer

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HOUSTON (FOX 26) -

A doctor-owned hospital in Houston is offering the only FDA-approved robot for spine surgery. What makes it even more interesting, it's smaller than a soda can!

FOX 26 News met up with scoliosis patient Jill Kunzler and her surgeon at Westside Surgical Hospital in Houston. Jill is a retired nurse. Even with her medical expertise, she finds it hard to believe that such a small device helped her surgeon so much. "It boggles my mind," she states.

Dr. Richard Francis with Orthopedic Spine Associates is Jill's surgeon and the Chief of Spine Surgery at Westside Surgical Hospital. He uses the Renaissance robot, which is powered by Mazor Robotics' technology, for all types of spine surgery, such as trauma to the spine, infectious or inflammatory conditions, and tumors of the spine. "Reconstructing the spine involves implants and screws to stabilize it, and we link them to get stability. This technology is a guided system that allows us to place these implants in situations that would be very difficult, almost impossible," explains Dr. Francis. "Precision is safety, and that's what it achieves here," he says. He goes on to say, "With all the things we do, the bottom line is safety! One of the most important challenges we face is patient safety and reassuring them that they will be safe in the end. When we tell patients about this (robot) and its established track record and how it compares to records in the past, people are impressed."

Dr. Francis says this technology is helping surgeons perform surgery much faster, so the patient is under anesthesia for a shorter amount of time, which he says also leads to less blood loss. Because of the precision of the surgery, he says patients experience less post-surgical pain and recover faster than with traditional methods.

It has an added benefit for everyone in the operating room who is taking care of the patient! "There are occupational risk factors when we do surgery! When we put in implants with traditional methods, it involves exposing ourselves to radiation during the procedure, cumulatively over time, it all adds up. When you look at the data, the cancer incidence in orthopedic surgeons, who perform these procedures under radiation, is much higher than in similar surgeons, who don't use radiation. With this robot, we don't have to use radiation, so that protects us as surgeons and members of our team," says Dr. Francis.

Jill sure is glad it was an option for her. She says another doctor described her twisted spine as looking like "the 610 loop in rush hour". She feared her spine was inoperable. She was diagnosed with scoliosis when she was a child, but says her family couldn't afford treatment then. She says over time, the pain started getting more severe, and the pain was shooting down her hips and legs. "It's been a real lifesaver to me! The quality of my life before surgery wasn't good. That's why I decided to have surgery. Now my quality of life is great! I haven't had discomfort like I thought I would after surgery, I expected a lot of pain! When you're in pain all the time, you're not happy, and people around you aren't happy, because it's not fun being around a grumpy person," she laughingly states. She also says after her procedure, she is no longer grumpy. "I can walk two miles now, couldn't walk a 1/4 mile before. Now I sit comfortably. I can bend and pick things up, even pitched whistle ball with my grandson, and I can do it without pain," says Jill. She also gained two inches in height with her straighter spine, which she says is an added bonus.

The Renaissance technology is so accurate, studies show it has cut the need for repeat or corrective surgery from 10-percent to 0-percent.

For more information, visit http://spineassociatesofhouston.com, http://westsidesurgical.net, or http://www.mazorrobotics.com/.

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