September 1, 2008

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Innovations Make Going Under the Knife Safer

Sarah Ryther-Francom

September 1, 2008

Almost everyone will find themselves in an operating room at one time or another. And though medical advances have made previous life-threatening risks such as severe blood loss and infection nearly obsolete, there will always be room to make the OR a bit less scary. Here’s a look at three medical innovations that are helping patients rest assured that they’ll come out of surgery safe and sound. Back on Track “A patient with spinal disease or injury who goes through surgery often comes out worse than before,” says Dave Hawks, co-founder of American Fork-based Sanacor. Founded in 2004, Sanacor develops medical devices to aid in spinal surgery. Those devices, the interbody spacer, surgical access device and pedicle screw, change the way a surgeon accesses a patient’s spine, ultimately making spinal surgery much less invasive and traumatic, decreasing surgical problems, speeding recovery and improving overall outcomes. Hawks says that traditional spinal surgery requires doctors to make a six to eight inch incision down the midline of a patient’s back, with the doctor having to laterally retract the patient’s back muscles before accessing to the spine. For the patient, this means severe blood loss, pain and damaged or deadened nerves. Ultimately such procedures can lead to a long-term condition known as fusion disease, when the muscles surrounding the surgical site die due to trauma experienced during surgery. A patient’s bones are also often crushed and end up fusing together, causing future pain and immobility. Sanacor is aiming to change these life altering side effects, primarily by revolutionizing how the spine is accessed. The company’s innovative medical devices allow surgeons to make a one-inch incision and retract the muscles at a naturally occurring fissure. The access portal is then placed underneath the muscle, lifting it away from the spine. The interbody spacer holds the bones apart and the pedicle screws hold the bones in place. Hawks says it’s like, “building a ship in a bottle” and calls the process “minimally traumatic surgery.” Hawks, who became interested in spinal surgery due to a family history with spinal disease, says that he’s happy to be making a difference in so many people’s lives. “The feedback we’ve received has been very positive,” he says. “The results are that patients experience less pain, come home from the hospital sooner, have less blood loss and fewer infections.” Breathe Easy Hate that groggy feeling after surgery? Salt Lake City-based Anecare, Inc. is helping surgery patients wake up sooner and feel better faster with the QED-100. Invented by Dwayne R. Westenskow, Joseph A. Orr and Derek J. Sakata, the QED-100 is gaining a national reputation by anesthesiologists as a better way to help patients come out of the drug-induced fog. “Traditional methods to wake a patient up require [anesthesiologists] to employ a hyperventilation technique that pushes the anesthetic out of the lungs, but the technique doesn’t clear the anesthetic out of the blood or brain. The question then becomes ‘How do you get it out of the blood faster?’ With the QED-100,” says Steve Blackwell, vice president of operations at Anecare. The QED-100 is a disposable, plastic device that traps a patient’s exhaled breath, then filters out the anesthetic. The patient then re-inhales the air, which has a mixture of oxygen and carbon dioxide to jump-start the brain’s waking ability. The results: “Patients are a lot more responsive and awake after surgery,” says Derek Sakata, one of the creators. “They seem to recover better and have less respiratory issues. It also allows us to better manage their discomfort and treat them appropriately.” Because the QED-100 employs a charcoal filter to rid the exhaled breath of the anesthetic, there is no chemical reaction and it is extremely safe for patients. “We haven’t seen any side effects,” says Sakata, adding that the device is especially helpful for high-risk patients. “It’s going to make a huge difference for older and obese [patients] who have trouble with their airways,” he says. Sakata says that he’s grateful to be helping patients get back on their feet after surgery. “[Patients] feel better when they are awake and feel like their normal selves. It’s great knowing that this device is making people feel better.” In Safe Hands Surgery at the hands of a robot doesn’t sound very comforting, but doctors across the nation are finding robotic surgery to be safer and more efficient than many traditional methods. The da Vinci is one such robot, helping surgeons operate on patients with prostate cancer. According to Dr. Robert Stephenson of the Huntsman Cancer Institute, the da Vinci robot aids both doctors and patients in more ways than one. “The da Vinci allows [surgeons] to do very complicated surgeries that aren’t possible with traditional surgery or laparoscopic surgery,” he says. “Laparoscopic surgery is clumsy, it’s almost like you’re operating with chopsticks, whereas with the robotic approach, you have all of the movement of fingers and wrists. It’s very intuitive.” The da Vinci, which is currently used at the Huntsman Cancer Institute, Salt Lake Regional Hospital and Intermountain Medical Center, gives surgeons enhanced 3D images of and improved access to the operating area, as well as greater surgical precision. “The da Vinci lets prostate cancer surgeons sit at a remote computer console in the operating room where they control small instruments that access a patient’s prostate. The precision of this system spares nerves and the bladder and aids in more complete removal of the cancer,” Stephenson says. As for the patient’s experience, the da Vinci promises to cause less pain, minimal scarring and a shorter hospital stay. “Patients also benefit from smaller incisions and a faster recovery time compared to conventional prostate cancer surgery,” Stephenson adds. Stephenson says that though robotic surgery may make some people nervous, it’s extremely safe and efficient. “Surgeons are just beginning to use robotics for creative approaches to surgeries,” he says. “Surgeries have been much more morbid in the past and robots have let us do things that weren’t doable before, and the da Vinci is a great example. There’s a lot of future developments that we’ll see with robotic surgery.”
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