Simplifying Complex Spinal Surgery

April 5, 2022 Providence News Team

Grace Van Dusen was nearly incapacitated by spinal pain before undergoing complex spinal surgery.Remi M. Ajiboye, MDGrace Van Dusen had been suffering from pain in her back, hips and legs for two years by the time she was referred to Remi M. Ajiboye, MD, an orthopedic surgeon at Providence Little Company of Mary Medical Center Torrance, where he also serves as medical director for orthopedic spine surgery. 

What started as a single stabbing pain had progressed to constant agony, inability to walk and sleepless nights for Van Dusen. The 78-year-old Air Force spouse and mother of four grown children had tried physical therapy, pain medication and several spinal cortisone injections—but the pain continued. 

When she arrived for her appointment with Dr. Ajiboye, says Van Dusen, “he had already looked at my MRI and knew what treatment I needed.” A spine specialist with advanced training in minimally invasive spine surgery and complex spinal reconstruction, Dr. Ajiboye determined that her case required spinal surgery. 

“Grace had severe nerve compression, instability in her spine and scoliosis, which is curvature of the spine,” says Dr. Ajiboye, who was confident in his ability to safely treat these problems. “Given the weakness in her legs, if we didn’t intervene quickly, she might suffer permanent damage and never be able to walk again.” 

There was one obstacle: It was April of 2020, when COVID was rampant, and vaccines had yet to be developed. Like other hospitals, Providence Little Company of Mary Torrance had suspended elective surgeries. But for Van Dusen, this was a critical surgery and could not be postponed. 

Dr. Ajiboye performed two procedures during a single surgical session. First he shaved off the part of her vertebra that was pushing on the nerve canal and causing the excruciating pain. He accomplished that procedure, called decompression, using a small incision. For the second procedure—fusion—he straightened her spine and inserted eight screws and two rods to stabilize it. This was accomplished via small incisions in Van Dusen’s back and on her left side. 

For both procedures, Dr. Ajiboye used minimally invasive techniques involving small instruments inserted through small incisions—some less than one inch. He utilized guidance from computer navigation and real-time images of Van Dusen’s spine. 

The surgery went smoothly. Van Dusen stayed in the hospital only three nights, less than half the time associated with traditional back surgery. She received physical therapy while in the hospital, then physical therapists visited her at home. She quickly grew strong enough to continue at an outpatient PT facility. 

“It was a wonderful surgery. I’ve been thankful ever since,” says Van Dusen. “By the end of the summer I was doing whatever I wanted, as long as it wasn’t unduly demanding.” 

She has regained her ability to take walks, do housework and garden. She enjoys attending church again and playing the violin— having picked up the instrument at age seven, she has been a member of the Beach Cities Symphony Orchestra for 24 years. She even traveled some in 2021. 

“Patients may think they’re too old for spine surgery, but even for those with multiple complex conditions, it can be achieved with minimally invasive techniques,” says Dr. Ajiboye. 

He credits this development to such advances as computer navigation systems that help ensure accuracy of surgery, better non-opioid medications for pain control and minimally invasive techniques—all of which allow for rapid recovery after surgery. He adds that success also relies upon surgeons having specialized training and experience with minimally invasive spinal surgery, as well as facilities that are properly equipped. 

Dr. Ajiboye appreciates the community feel at Providence Little Company of Mary Torrance. “I know just about everyone, including administrators, which allows me to better advocate for my patients. The people here love what they do and are very supportive. Providence Little Company of Mary has the technology needed, the supportive services, and excellent people, such as the operating room staff, physical therapists and nurses who are truly passionate about patient care.” 

For more information on complex spine surgery, call 844-925-0942. 

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