Spinal surgery in Geelong a first

Neurosurgeon Girish Nair inserted a small titanium disc in his patient’s upper spine at Epworth Geelong in September.

The operation worked around the oesophagus, trachea and the carotid artery (the artery supplying blood to the brain) to help release pressure on a nearby nerve and restore function to her right arm.

Dr Nair says an increasing number of patients suffer from disc prolapse due to incorrect posture using digital devices, including laptops and smarts phones.

Geelong medical first — minuscule titanium disc inserted into spine

Imagine having a minuscule titanium disc, with a centre made from the same material as a car tail light and a plastic bottle, inserted into your spine.

That’s been the experience of a 47-year-old Armstrong Creek woman during a medical first in Geelong.

The implant — with the height of half a 5c coin and length of a small pen cap — was put into Kath Franklin’s neck to release pressure on a nearby nerve and restore function to her right arm.

During a two-hour operation, the implant was inserted into a 6mm high and 14mm long space between two vertebra in Ms Franklin’s neck.

“It wasn’t until I woke up after surgery and flexed my hands that I thought the pain was gone,” Ms Franklin said.

“I was almost more aware of what was missing once I got it back.”

Ms Franklin struggled to drive and had to sleep with small wheat packs near her head when the pain was at its worst in August.

“At first, I didn’t take much notice of it then I got pain in my shoulder. I didn’t realise it was associated (with my disc problem).”

The surgery was performed at the Epworth Hospital in Waurn Ponds by neurosurgeon and Girish Nair.

In September, Dr Nair, from Newtown, was a part of a world-first trial to inject stem cells into a Victorian man’s brain to treat his Parkinson’s disease.

During Ms Franklin’s surgery, he worked around the oesophagus, trachea and the carotid artery, which supplies blood to the brain, to get to the area where the implant had to be placed.

“If you hit any of these structures, the outcome is a disaster,” Dr Nair said.

“ If the carotid artery is injured, people can have strokes

“We chipped away and scooped out the old disc … and inserted the artificial disc.”

Channels were also drilled in Ms Franklin’s vertebra during the October 19 surgery to allow keels of the implant to fuse to the bone.

Seven weeks after surgery, Ms Franklin, who couldn’t muster the strength to pour water into a glass four months ago, is hailing it a success.

“I understand why people with chronic nerve pain can get depressed,” she said.

“I would get out of work, get into my car and cry. Anything that required significant power in my right arm I couldn’t do it.”

Ms Franklin has now returned to work and the only visible remnant of her surgery is a 3cm scar on her neck.

Dr Nair has seen a rise in the rate of disc prolapse in the adult population in recent years. The cause, he said, is the amount of time we spend with our necks in incorrect posture while looking at our phones, laptops and other devices.

Story reproduced with kind permission from Geelong Advertiser