Rita Canning loves to play golf and racquetball, but constant pain in her back prevented the northwest suburban grandmother from great drives and serving aces. She was watching her favorite sports from the sidelines.
When the pain became unbearable, Canning visited her doctor who diagnosed several back problems: sciatica, a herniated disc and spinal stenosis – a narrowing of spaces in the spine which causes pressure on the spinal cord and nerves. Canning was told she would ultimately need back surgery.
“I had a lot of issues going on with my back,” Canning says. “My nerves were all messed up and I was in excruciating pain.”
While Canning knew she inevitably would need an operation on her back, she wanted to do her homework in selecting the doctor and hospital where she would undergo surgery. She was looking for care close to home, but realized significant back surgery might require a trip downtown.
It was during one of these fact-finding trips downtown that Canning learned about Shaun O’Leary, M.D., Ph.D., a neurosurgeon with the NCH Medical Group who specializes in the diagnosis and treatment of complex spine and peripheral nerve problems.
“I really didn't want to go downtown for surgery,” Canning says. “A round trip downtown takes a full day on the train, and then you have to consider going down for pre-op and post-op visits. I was excited after hearing the recommendation for Dr. O’Leary.”
When Canning met with Dr. O’Leary she learned about NCH’s new computer-assisted spinal navigation system, the Stryker BodyTom, which enables neurosurgeons to use 3-D imaging for greater surgical precision.
“Rita has always been a very active person, but she had degenerative spine conditions,” Dr. O’Leary says. “Our goal was to keep her active and moving.” Dr. O’Leary recommended a minimally invasive lumbar spinal decompression to remove pressure from the nerves in Canning’s back.
The surgery begins with a CT scan of the spine to determine the location and extent of the problem. The scans are loaded into a computer that creates a virtual 3-D model of the patient's spine. During surgery, an infrared camera communicates with the sensors mounted on the patient and instruments, and the tracking software continuously calculates and displays the location of the surgical instruments relative to the patient's anatomy.
“The new imaging capabilities allow us to be more specific and make smaller incisions during surgery,” Dr. O’Leary says. “It is a more focused surgery that leads to a quicker recovery.”
Canning is the first patient in the area to undergo lumbar spinal decompression using 3-D imaging with just a 24-hour hospital stay. “I woke up and felt like a million bucks,” Canning says. “NCH made the experience of surgery so easy. I went home the next day and didn’t have any discomfort.”
The use of the 3-D technology is becoming popular at NCH, Dr. O’Leary says. “This type of technology is right here in our community,” he says. “NCH is where you want to come for care.”
Canning was happy to stay close to home for her surgery and follow-up visits. The new technology made the decision to go to NCH easy. “Both of my parents were patients at NCH, and I often took my kids there for treatment when they were younger,” she says. “I have a long-term relationship with NCH.”
With no pain in her back, Canning is looking forward to getting back to sports.
Neurological surgeon with NCH Medical Group
Medical school: Seton Hall University and Georgetown University
Residency: Henry Ford Hospital, Detroit
Board-certified: Neurological surgery