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How augmented reality headsets are transforming spine surgeries

During surgery, the high-tech guidance system means surgeons don't have to take their eyes off their patients, providing more precise and efficient back procedures.

COLUMBUS, Ohio — Sixteen million American adults have chronic back pain and every year, surgeons perform more than one and a half million spine surgeries in an effort to bring some relief. Now, a high-tech guidance system allows surgeons to be more precise and efficient during back procedures.

Forty-seven-year-old Jennifer Minnear can stand tall without pain for the first time in 27 years – that’s when she fell down a flight of stairs, carrying her six-month-old baby.

“I just took the brunt of the injury. Fell flat on my back on the stairs,” Minnear recalls.

Minnear’s daughter Rosemary was unharmed, but Minnear injured her spine and her neck, starting years of chronic pain.

“I could be walking and all of a sudden, it just grabs hold of me,” Minnear emphasizes.

Since 1999, Minnear has had five spinal surgeries. But for the most recent, Safdar Khan, MD, orthopedic surgeon at the Ohio State Wexner Medical Center, had new technology guiding him – the Augmedics X-Vision Spine System.

Doctors can simultaneously see a computer-generated image of the patient’s spine, while looking at the patient on the operating table.

“I can plan out a better surgery because I can see the patient's anatomy, even before making an incision,” Dr. Khan mentions.

In traditional spine surgery, doctors refer to x-rays projected on a screen across from the patient.

Dr. Khan explains, “In order to place the instrumentation, the surgeon has to look down in real-time and then, look up, and then, look down.”

With augmented reality headsets, surgeons don’t take their eyes off the patient.

Minnear says she felt better as soon as she woke up from surgery.

“I’ve never had a recovery like this. Never,” she expresses.

It’s the best her back has felt in more than two decades.

Dr. Khan says because he is operating in a more efficient manner with smaller incisions and a more targeted approach, the length of surgery has decreased, which means patients are exposed to less anesthesia. Dr. Khan was among the first surgeons in the United States to use the system.

If this story has impacted your life or prompted you or someone you know to seek or change treatments, please let us know by contacting Shelby Kluver at shelby.kluver@wqad.com or Marjorie Bekaert Thomas at mthomas@ivanhoe.com.

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