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New disc replacement procedure restores movement.

Arkansans with back problems may now consider a brand-new kind of back surgery. In October 2004, the FDA approved the Charite Artificial Disc for use in disc replacement surgery.

The first such surgery, a successful one, was performed at the St. Vincent Spine Center in Little Rock in November 2004 by Dr. Ted Saer and Dr. Wayne Bruffett, both of Little Rock.

The recipient was 46-year-old Bob Anderson, who works at Ellsworth Air Force Base in South Dakota as a heavy equipment mechanic. He is also a retired Sprint Car driver.

"I was able to walk around my room for a little while yesterday about six hours after the surgery," Anderson said the day after the surgery. "I was a little light-headed, but there wasn't any real pain."

He has had back pain caused by degenerative disc disease for the past 10 years. Occasionally a pinched nerve caused pain severe enough that he missed work for days at a time. Anderson says he's most looking forward to getting back to his normal active lifestyle.

"He is doing very well," Saer said. "He's back in South Dakota now, working on light duty, planning to move to Arkansas in late January. He made an amazingly fast recovery and was walking two to three miles a day a week after the surgery."

Made of two metallic endplates and a movable high-density plastic center, the Charite Artificial Disc is designed to help align the spine and preserve normal movement. For some candidates--not all--implantation of the new device presents an alternative to conventional back surgery, which usually consists of fusing vertebra together and thereby decreasing mobility. According to Dr. Saer, Charite is approved for the replacement of only one disc, and the disc being replaced must be one of the lower two. "This is a really new technology, and it's kind of exciting," Saer said. "But it's not going to work for everyone."

Dr. Bruffett agrees. "For the right patient this is a wonderful operation," said Bruffett, who practices in Little Rock at the Spine Center clinic of the Arkansas Specialty Care Centers along with Dr. Saer. "However, it is really indicated for a small subset of people who suffer with low back pain."

This surgery is not recommended for patients who are significantly obese or who suffer from spondylolisthesis, osteoporosis or arthritis of the spine. "I would hope that patients be certain they have exhausted all other nonsurgical, non-narcotic treatments for back pain before considering this. There is no substitute for things such as trunk stabilization exercises, weight loss and smoking cessation. You are much better off if you can manage back pain with a healthy lifestyle and avoid spinal surgery."

Patients who are viable candidates for this procedure benefit from several advantages not associated with conventional fusion. Unlike typical fusion surgery, surgical spine implants come with a shorter recovery period, less stress on adjacent discs and, ultimately, a better chance of resuming normal activity.

"This replacement disc allows motion--it restores relatively normal movement--rather than eliminating it, which is what fusion does," said Dr. Saer, one of three surgeons in Arkansas trained to surgically implant the Charite Artificial Disc.

The St. Vincent Spine Center is the only training site in Arkansas for spinal surgical implants. There, prior to attempting this surgery themselves, surgeons will be able to observe the surgery as trained surgeons perform it--currently Dr. Saer, Dr. Bruffett and Dr. Eric Akin. Fifty sites were chosen in the United States.

"St. Vincent has really had an interest in developing new spine procedures, in addition to all that it currently offers," Saer said. "They have been very supportive of us in that regard."

For more information about disc replacement surgery, speak to your primary care physician, contact St. Vincent HealthMatch at (800) 632-4614 or visit
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Title Annotation:Advertising Supplement
Comment:New disc replacement procedure restores movement.(Advertising Supplement)
Author:Penn, Casey L.
Publication:Arkansas Business
Geographic Code:1U7AR
Date:Jan 31, 2005
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