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September 06, 2001
Canadian first in spine surgery London Health Sciences Centre enters a new frontier
(LONDON, Ontario) - There is new hope today for Canadians suffering from chronic lower back pain because of degenerative disc disease. Canada's first artificial disc replacement has been performed at London Health Sciences Centre (LHSC).
Unlike traditional spinal fusion surgery, where the movement of a degenerated disc is stopped by fusing the surrounding vertebrae together, this new procedure replaces the bad disc with an artificial one. As a result, the disc is restored to its original height, the spine is realigned, and there is less risk that adjoining discs will degenerate. For the patient that means pain relief, restored mobility, and a shorter recovery time.
The LINK SB Charité (share-ih-TAY) Artificial Disc is a prosthesis system consisting of a polyethylene core that slides between two metal end plates, which attach to the vertebrae of the spine. These are the same materials that have been used for the last three decades in artificial hip and knee replacements. The discs come in different sizes to fit a patient's anatomy, and are designed to allow patients to replicate natural movement.
Although this is back surgery, the approach is from the front of the body through a small incision in the lower abdomen. The patient is discharged from the hospital 2 to 3 days after surgery, and rehabilitation begins right away.
Dr. Kevin Gurr, Orthopaedic Spine Surgeon, performed the first artificial disc replacement in Canada on April 11, 2001. Dr. Stewart Bailey, Orthopaedic Spine Surgeon, and Dr. Ken Leslie, Surgeon, were also involved in the procedure. Dr. Gurr says, "For the patient, this is as significant a development as artificial hip and knee replacements 30 years ago."
The first patient to have the artificial disc replacement in Canada, 47-year old Mary Doyle, suffered intense lower back pain for seven years. Doyle says, "As soon as I woke up from the operation, my pain was gone. I now have my life back, and I am living it to the fullest, pain-free."
Tony Dagnone, LHSC President and CEO, says, "We are proud of our team of doctors and nurses who have been successful in completing this leading-edge spine surgery for the first time in Canada."
Artificial disc replacement is only recommended after all traditional therapies have failed to provide pain relief. Patients must undergo extensive testing to clearly determine that their pain is in fact coming from a single degenerated disc. Only one of the last two discs of the spine, L4-5 or L5-S1, can be replaced with the prosthesis. Most patients are in their thirties or forties.
Discs are gel-like cushions that act as shock absorbers between each of the 24 bones in the spine. Over time, these discs can degenerate and lose their function, resulting in a great deal of pain for many people.
While the LINK SB Charite Artificial Disc is still in clinical trials in the United States, it has proven itself in Europe over the last decade, with approximately 3,000 successful procedures.
The disc was developed by two German physicians, Dr. Kurt Schellnack and Dr. Karin Buttner-Janz, formerly of the Charite Hospital, Humboldt University, Berlin. It is now manufactured by the Link Spine Group.
Dr. Kevin Gurr, LHSC Spine Surgeon, pictured at right, performs an artificial disc replacement in the lower spine.
Shot of the "plastic" core of the artificial disc before it's placed inside a patient.
Shot of the complete artificial disc replacement inside a patient.