A Calgary doctor is believed to be the first in Canada to perform spine surgery on a conscious patient.
“This is just the first step of a long journey,” said Dr. Michael Yang, a spine surgeon at Foothills Medical Centre.
Last month, Yang performed a discectomy to remove the damaged part of a herniated disc in the spine, on a patient who was wide awake.
Todd Bene, who has been dealing with chronic lower back and leg pain, was that patient.
“I thought, well, I’ll try anything once,” he said.
“It was kind of cool. You know, I didn’t feel much. Every once in a while, you would feel a little something.”
The surgery took about 55 minutes and he was able to go home less than five hours later.
The next day, Bene was up cooking breakfast for his grandkids and even made a trip to IKEA.
“It was just night and day for the pain,” he said.
“I was just so surprised when I got up the first time after the surgery and also standing up straight.”
Todd Bene, who has been dealing with chronic lower back and leg pain, was wide awake for a discectomy to remove the damaged part of a herniated disc.
Bene has heart problems, so Yang thought putting him under general anesthetic would be too risky.
Instead, he chose to perform the surgery without it — something he learned while studying at the University of Miami.
“This technique is quite mature in the U.S. and I think it’s time for us in Canada to start doing it because I do feel like it’s going to have a significant impact on patient care,” he said.
“The patients have less pain after surgery, less nausea, less vomiting after surgery. Patients are able to get up much quicker and walk around and thereby, facilitating their recovery.”
The surgical team and neuroanesthesiologists worked together to sedate Bene just enough so it wouldn’t hurt and he’d be able to communicate if it did.
“So we minimize the harm that we could potentially cause on a patient during the surgery,” Yang said.
“The surgery itself is not super innovative, but it’s putting a team together to be able to do it awake that is innovative.”
The surgery took about 55 minutes and Todd Bene was able to go home less than five hours later.
Yang hopes this will be the first of many such procedures and will create opportunities to perform more complex surgeries — like spinal fusions — using this technique.
He says spinal fusions typically require a two to three day hospital stay, but with this method, the patient could go home the same day.
“This can really help reduce health-care utilization while maintaining excellent outcomes for our patients and be able to help more Albertans get the surgery they need in a more timely fashion,” Yang said.
However, Yang warns “awake surgery” isn’t for everyone.
He advises against doing it on patients who are obese, have anxiety or require a longer surgery because there can be more risks.
Dr. Michael Yang hopes the surgery on Todd Bene will be the first of many such procedures and will create opportunities to perform more complex surgeries — like spinal fusions — using this technique.
Meanwhile, Bene has been off work for six weeks and is about to start physiotherapy.
Bene also has advice for other patients.
“Just don’t be scared of it. It’ll change your life.”