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New endoscopic spinal surgery promises shorter recovery time

Tuesday, August 16, 2011
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— A groundbreaking spinal surgery that is minimally invasive and comes with a faster recovery period is now being performed at Nathan Littauer Hospital.

Dr. Jian Shen, an orthopedic surgeon who specializes in complex spine care, completed the first endoscopic cervical spine surgery in the area at the hospital Friday. The technique causes less muscle damage and less irritation than the typical cervical spine surgery.

“It’s basically a decompressing procedure,” said Shen, who explained that the surgery involves removing a bone spur, cyst or herniation that is compressing a nerve. The procedure is designed to improve patient discomfort.

The procedure is about 5 years old but so far has been performed only in San Francisco, Chicago and Texas.

Shen said the reason why more doctors aren’t performing the surgery may be because “people get used to the open procedure and it’s hard to change.”

“But once you get used to [the newer procedure] there is no return because it’s so much better,” he said.

The procedure uses an endoscope, a device with a long, thin, flexible tube with a light and camera at the tip. The video feed then goes to an HDTV that the doctor uses to view the area. It requires an inch-long incision, while other methods use a large, midline incision almost five times longer.

“I think this is really good,” said Shen. “There’s less blood, less pain, a shorter recovery and less muscle damage.”

The first local patient was a man with a rare spine disease.

“The patient reports [he] already feel[s] a difference from surgery,” said Shen. “Although it is early in the recovery process, the patient already has improved range of motion.” The patient, whose name is not being disclosed for privacy reasons, was discharged from the hospital Saturday.

The family was also grateful. “We have waited for Dr. Shen to come here. We are very pleased to be in his care,” they said in a news release.

Hospital President and CEO Laurence E. Kelly stated: “According to our research, only a few academic centers in the United States perform this type of surgery. Obviously we are thrilled for this patient and for others in our region who suffer with spine problems.”

Shen finished his fellowship at University of California, San Francisco, earlier this year before joining the staff of Nathan Littauer in July.

Previously, he earned a Ph.D. in basic science research in pharmacology, finished his medical education at Cornell University Medical College in New York City, did a surgical internship at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn., and completed an orthopedic surgery residency at Wake Forest University Medical Center in Winston-Salem, N.C. He is versed in minimally invasive and complex spine surgery, as well as nonsurgical techniques and therapies.

Dr. Shen chose the Gloversville area because he wants to interact personally with each patient so they “do not feel like a number.” He said working at Littauer allows him to do that and he plans to stay in the area.

“With Dr. Shen’s arrival, we now say, ‘Spines everywhere can rejoice,’ ” Kelly said in the news release.

 
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