Minimally Invasive Surgery for Rare Back Condition

By the time Joan MacLean met AAMC neurosurgeon Gary Dix, MD, she had been relying on a wheel chair for two years. The 74-year-old Annapolis resident has severe degenerative disc disease of the spine. She had already gone through a number of spinal fusions to stabilize her back, but as the disease progressed, her condition became debilitating.

“The pain and weakness in my back and legs got so bad I couldn’t walk,” she says. “More than a block, and I just couldn’t do it.” Joan had developed sacroiliitis, an instability of the sacroiliac joint in the pelvis where the sacrum and the iliac bones meet. This joint is supposed be immobile, but Joan’s had been moving ever so slightly causing inflammation and severe pain.

In the past, her only option for relief would have been another major back surgery. Doctors would have had to make a large incision, remove bone and tissue from the joint space. Then, after filling the space with graft material they would have had to install metal screws to immobilize the bones.

Fortunately for Joan, Dr. Dix was able to offer her a minimally invasive, cutting edge procedure that very few hospitals in the country offer. The iFuse implant system relies on small titanium dowels inserted into the joint space to prevent the bones from moving. There is no need to cut into the bone, and there are no screws. “Once the joint is immobilized,” Dr. Dix says, “bone grows across the joint space which helps to further stabilize it and prevent painful motion.”  The entire procedure is done through a small incision in the back.

Last April, Joan had the iFuse procedure on her left side and it turned her life around.  “It was the best thing I could have done,” she says. “We went on a cruise in January, and I walked ten miles around the ship.” This February, she repeated the procedure on the other side. “I couldn’t wait to get this done.” She says. “I’m so glad they do this here.”

AAMC remains one of only a handful of hospitals in the area with the technology and experienced medical staff to offer this innovative procedure.

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