Spine's best friend

Neurosurgeon George Khoury explains how the O-arm Imaging System works during its unveiling Wednesday at Bon Secours St. Francis Neuro-Spine Center.

Brad Nettles

When retired nurse Anita Carner learned that she needed spinal surgery for a slipped disk, she had flashbacks from 20 years ago of patients wearing uncomfortable back braces confined to hospital beds for weeks.

But she was up and moving around the day after a spinal-fusion procedure last month at Bon Secours St. Francis Neuro-Spine Center.

She attributes some of the success of her surgery to a new machine in the operating room that gives surgeons real-time images on a computer screen to help them navigate more precisely through the delicate anatomy of the spine.

"During back or spine surgery, precision is everything," said George Khoury, the neurosurgeon who did Carner's surgery. And he thinks the new $1.2 million O-arm Imaging System helps surgeons to be more precise.

Most patients go through imaging procedures such as CT scans, MRIs, or X-rays before surgery, he said. But things can change during surgery, he said, and the new technology allows surgeons to see and respond to those changes.

Hospital officials said the Neuro-Spine Center is the first facility in South Carolina, and one of a select few in the world, to offer spinal surgery using the system.

Officials at Trident Health System said they don't have that particular system, but they have a similar device. Leaders at Medical University Hospital said they don't have a similar imaging system, but a group is working on bringing in the technology.

Neurosurgeon Stephen Rawe said spine-center surgeons have used the new system in about 30 procedures so far, some of them to insert screws in a spine. Estimates on malpositioned screws in spinal surgery using only traditional X-rays range from 2 to 40 percent, Rawe said, but the center has had no reports of malpositioned screws using the new imaging system, he said.

Carner, whose spinal procedure required surgeons to insert screws, said her recovery has been remarkable. Before the surgery, she would stay in bed for about 30 minutes after waking up each morning because she knew sitting up would be painful.

But now, she said, "I'm pretty much pain-free."