Strong Neurosurgeons Enable Paralyzed Patient to Walk Again

December 08, 1999

When plane crash victim Michael Robinson was brought to Strong Memorial Hospital's Emergency Department on August 15, he lay strapped to a gurney, paralyzed and numb from the waist down. Less than two months later, Robinson was discharged from Strong, able to walk with the aid of nothing more than his own two feet.

Thanks to the availability of the Kaneda anterior spinal instrumentation system or in simpler terms - 360-degree spinal fusion - and the quick action of his neurosurgery team at Strong, Robinson, 42, was spared a lifetime of paraplegia.

The crash's impact shattered Robinson's T12 and L1 spinal vertebra, located halfway down his back. The fractured bones were pushed into the spinal canal, completely filling the space available for Robinson's spinal cord. Such an injury, common in trauma patients, generally causes permanent paralysis if the spinal cord remains compressed. It is this compression which prevents oxygen-rich blood from reaching the spinal cord, subsequently killing off nerve cells. In Robinson's case, his spine was so severely compressed and damaged that his only hope was stabilization from both the front and back.

During the 360 front-and-back fusion, surgeons remove the shattered front portion of the patient's spine to relieve the pressure. Next, the spinal column is rebuilt with small metal cylinders packed with the patient's own bone. Surgeons then remove the back portion of the vertebra, and insert screws and rods to further stabilize the spine. Lastly, a bone graft is performed to ensure that the fusion becomes even more solid as it heals. Full recovery for Robinson is expected to take a year.

"The 360 fusion is an excellent tool for stabilizing the spine in patients with catastrophic spinal injuries," said Seth Zeidman, M.D., chief of complex spinal surgery in the Department of Neurosurgery and head of Robinson's surgical team. "This procedure gives immediate stability and provides the optimal environment for the spinal cord to make a recovery." Zeidman previously served on the Spine Service at Johns Hopkins Hospital and as chief of spinal surgery at Walter Reed Army Medical Center, where he received extensive experience in performing the 360 spinal fusion.

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