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New tech can help rebuild a spine

December 17, 2008 12:00:00 AM PST
Doctors are using a new type of technology to help rebuild a patients spine.She's walking with a smile because 8 months ago Jo Ann Sanders couldn't do a single thing without writhing in pain.

"It got the point where I couldn't sit stand or lay down. I was in constant pain all the time," said Sanders.

A fall in 1992 eventually led to a visible collapse of several discs in her spine.

"They're all collapsed down together. This bone has shifted forward down on this bone and they are significantly degenerated," said spine surgeon, Dr. Robert Watkins, Jr.

She needed fusion surgery, but few doctors wanted to attempt it. So Dr. Robert Watkins, Jr. and his father employed new technology to rebuild her spine.

When it comes to putting in screws to realign the spine precision counts. Just being a millimeter off can mean repeat surgery for the patient.

"There's a very fine line for putting in the screw right where we want it, and not causing any damage," said Dr. Watkins.

The conventional way is to use x-rays and feel along the spine.

"We would basically just feel our way down the bone. You feel hard bone and soft bone. You get a pretty good sense of feeling down the bone, but occasionally you're wrong and you miss," said Dr. Watkins.

Now there is a more accurate way for doctors to find the exact place and position. It's called Navi Vision and it's sort of a GPS for spine surgeons.

"So we have a 3-D picture with a real time image. As we move the screw it shows where it is going in relation to the bone. Real time on the table, just like a GPS or a fighter pilot," said Dr. Watkins. "As I move my hand it shows the projection of the screw going through the bone. So as I move my hand one way it shows that the screw is going to miss the bone, and when I move my hand the other way it shows the screw going right down the bone."

An x-ray of Jo Ann's back today shows that it all fit so well.

"I am like a miracle. I don't feel any pain. I don't feel any foreign part in my body at all," said Sanders.


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