Back to Business: Spine surgery restores a woman’s lifestyle.

September 5, 2022 Providence Health Team

This story was originally published in the Summer 2022 edition of Providence Mission Hospital Health Matters.


In this article:

  • Providence Mission Hospital is having success finding nonsurgical strategies and minimally invasive techniques to treat the neck and back.

  • Dr. Anthony Kim has guided Providence Mission Hospital with innovative technology, such as the Mazor X robotic system, to help decrease pain for patients post-surgery and to help expedite the healing process.

  • Whitney Tichauer, a trauma nurse, suffered from chronic back pain from a previous automobile accident. Dr. Kim’s treatment had her discharged in 3 days, including surgery and restored her active lifestyle.  

Only 33 years old, Whitney Tichauer suffered from constant back pain. She walked hunched over, couldn’t bend down, and needed grab bars to lower and raise herself from the toilet. The pain stemmed from a car accident. She had been stopped at a red light when she was rear-ended by a car going 40 miles per hour. Tichauer, a trauma nurse, knew where to turn: neurosurgeon Keun-young Anthony Kim, MD, and the Spine Program at Providence Mission Hospital.

In an unfortunate coincidence, Tichauer’s wife, Rachel Tichauer, had also been hit by a car several years earlier. Rachel’s accident caused damage to her neck. She met with numerous specialists before finding Dr. Kim, the only spinal surgeon in the region qualified and willing to perform an artificial disk placement, rather than the more common spinal fusion. Dr. Kim removed and replaced the damaged disk. This allowed Rachel to pivot and turn her neck, which would not have been possible with spinal fusion.

In Whitney’s case, the injury was in the lower part of her spine. Her accident had caused a spine segment to “move forward, like a slipped drawer,” says Dr. Kim. “The condition is called spondylolisthesis, and Whitney wasn’t healing.” The injury not only triggered terrible pain but also robbed Whitney of her favorite pastimes: sports and other physical activities. COVID-19 had already curtailed her participation in hockey and beach volleyball, but now Whitney couldn’t even go for a run.

To repair Whitney’s spine, Dr. Kim performed spinal fusion using the Mazor X robotic system, a sophisticated spinal surgery system that includes 3D visualization and intraoperative guidance. He used robotic guidance to realign the spine and insert screws to keep the disks in place.

In contrast to open surgery, which generally requires a four- or five-day hospitalization, robotic surgery spares the muscles, is more precise, and allows for faster recovery, says Dr. Kim. Whitney spent only three days in the hospital. “My nurses were so responsive and patient. Everyone made me feel safe, and I was well cared for,” Whitney says of her experience at Providence Mission. “Dr. Kim and his assistant, Elizabeth Williams, were extremely responsive and generous with their time. They understand the emotional toll of injury and what a major life event it is for patients.”

The skilled clinicians at Providence Mission Hospital help patients return to a life free from back and neck pain through a variety of treatments. Nonsurgical strategies include physical therapy, injections, and radiofrequency. When surgery is necessary, it can often be done using minimally invasive techniques that decrease pain and speed healing. Post-surgical rehabilitation includes care from orthopedic-certified specialists and is designed to safely restore movement, function, and strength.

Early adopters of innovation in the OR

Dr. Kim takes pride in the technology Providence Mission has adopted, with his guidance. Providence Mission was among the first in the country to utilize a navigation-assisted spine surgery system. The Spine Program team has transformed the lives of more than 1,200 patients with navigated spine surgeries since obtaining this capability in the mid-2010s. In addition, Dr. Kim works with numerous medical equipment companies to test and advance new technologies. These companies, including Medtronic, Globus Medical and Integra, look to the Providence Mission spine team for help developing and refining processes, which are subsequently shared with other hospitals.

Providence Mission will serve as an alpha site for testing two new spine navigation systems that use extended reality (XR) glasses and goggles to control the surgical robot, he says. “The robot synergizes with, or is an extension of, a surgeon’s knowledge of appropriate instrumentation positioning and use of small windows to access the spine, even in scoliosis cases,” says Dr. Kim. “We are redefining how spinal surgeons can use robotics and how we perform spinal surgery. Many innovative technologies are on the horizon, and Mission is about pioneering the next phase of the spinal surgery revolution.” Ultimately, the technology is about improving quality of life for patients like Whitney Tichauer. “I feel exponentially better,” she reports, three months after her surgery. “I’m back to the gym and expect to feel fully recovered within a year.”


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Related resources

Back pain doesn’t have to hold you back

Advances in minimally invasive spine surgery

Simplifying complex spinal surgery


This information is not intended as a substitute for professional medical care. Always follow your health care professional's instructions.

About the Author

The Providence Health Team brings together caregivers from diverse backgrounds to bring you clinically-sound, data-driven advice to help you live your happiest and healthiest selves.

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