Orthopedic surgery of the spine
Med School/Year Graduated: Yale University, 1984
Years in Practice: 23
What have been the greatest advancements in your field in the past 10 years?
For the cervical spine, artificial disc replacements allow patients to maintain motion and avoid fusions. For the lumbar spine, minimally invasive spine surgery has resulted in smaller incisions, less muscle scarring, minimal blood loss, shorter hospital stays, and quicker patient recovery.
What are you most excited about in the future of your field?
The most promising treatments involve research into biologic substances [e.g. stem cells] which can be placed into the disc and around nerves, helping restore lost function. Though still in the research phase, there has been recent success with this type of procedure for back pain due to disc degeneration.
What is your opinion of naturopathic or herbal “joint health” formulas?
I am open-minded about all treatments, but prefer those which have been scientifically studied. There is no regulatory agency overseeing these formulas, and although they may work for some patients, they may actually cause harm in others.
How do teaching and consulting make you a better practicing physician, and vice-versa?
Teaching stimulates my passion for continuous improvement. In order to be a good teacher of other surgeons, I have to keep up with the latest advancements in spine surgery. Answering tough questions makes me think about the best ways to deliver great patient care.
What are some of the most effective minimally invasive spine surgery procedures today?
We have improved the effectiveness of minimally invasive surgery by using robots and intraoperative CT scanners, which allow us to “see” deep into the spine without opening it up. One of my most effective outpatient procedures implants a fusion device into the spine through a mere one-inch incision.
How much does posture truly affect spinal health?
Not as much as people like to think – most often it is the health of the spine which influences posture!
If and when researchers discover a “cure” for spinal paralysis, do you think the procedure will fall under the auspices of spinal surgery? Or neurological surgery? Or will it be a new field entirely?
The most promising research right now uses injectable stem cells. Since most spinal cord injuries involve traumatic spinal instability, a spine surgeon will always be the guiding force toward stabilizing the spine, as part of a team approach.
What do you like to do in your free time?
I am an avid hiker and mountain climber, culminating in a climb of Mount Everest a few years ago. I also love to travel and discover new cultures, and have enjoyed doing surgery on missions to third-world countries such as Nepal, Cambodia, Tanzania and Haiti.
“If I wasn’t a doctor, I’d be...”
I must say that I couldn’t see myself doing anything else. Although at times difficult and challenging, this lifetime dream allows me the satisfaction of improving other people’s lives. I know it may sound somewhat clichéd, but I couldn’t imagine being anything other than a spine surgeon.