Last week I learned that, after unsuccessful treatments of physical therapy, chiropractic care, massage therapy and steroids, I am going to need to have neck surgery, which is scheduled for Thursday, December 15. The surgery, called Anterior Cervical Discectomy with Arthrodesis, is necessary to correct advanced Cervical Spondylosis, severe disc herniation, significant spinal compression, moderate bilateral C6 Foraminal Stenosis and severe Osteoarthritis. So for us non spinal surgeons and doctors what that means is I have advanced herniation of my disc at the C6 level which has caused significant compression of my spine and a moderate pinching of my nerve. So why am I sharing this personal challenge with the readers of IPWatchdog?
After meeting with my doctor, discussing the results of my tests, reading through all of the documentation and talking to my mother who had a similar surgery in 2000, I realized that there have been so many medical breakthroughs over the years. These medical breakthroughs make surgeries like this possible and in many cases with far better outcomes than in years passed. So I thought I would write about some of those revolutionary technologies and the Hall of Fame inventors who were responsible for them.
Peyton Manning of the Indianapolis Colts had the exact same surgery that I am going to have next week and is expected to eventually return to football. For him, they removed the entire disc, replaced the disc with some substance and used a titanium plate to form a spinal fusion. Although Manning’s NFL career is not over, my NFL prospects are not quite as good. My prognosis, however, is for a complete recovery.
In my case, my surgeon, Dr. Ian Wattenmaker of the Center of Spinal Surgery & Spinal Disorders in Leesburg, VA, will need to remove the entire disc at level C6 along with any surrounding bone that is contributing to the compression. The disc will then be replaced with a piece of my own bone or bone fragments placed in what he called a “cage.” He will then use a plate and screws to form the fusion of my spine between the C5 and C6 vertebrae.
These issues typically occur in patients 55 and older yet I am only turning 40 in February. My four fingers and the palm of my right hand have been numb non-stop since exercising with a personal trainer about 2 months ago and the pinky and ring finger on my left hand go numb from time to time. I also have neck and shoulder pain (which I thought was the result of sitting here at my computer for so long), difficulty sleeping, poor balance and electrical type “shocks” that run from elbow to elbow, across my shoulders and into my arms every time I change sitting or lying positions or move my head to fast.
I met with my surgeon for the first time 2 weeks ago in regard to this issue. He took x-rays of my neck in his office, and could see there was some herniation of the disc but needed further studies to determine the extent of the herniation.
Diagnostic medicine was revolutionized when, on November 8, 1895, German physicist Wilhelm Conrad Röntgen accidentally discovered the X-ray. While experimenting with electric current flow, Röntgen saw that a fluorescent image was cast from his cathode ray generator when it came in contact with a piece of barium (soft silvery metal) platinocyanide. The very first X-ray picture was taken and printed on December 22 of that same year. The subject of this first X-ray was the hand of his wife, Anna Bertha, which showed all of the bones of her hand as well as her wedding band. Röntgen refused to seek patent protection on his invention and insisted that the invention not be named after him. Röntgen was awarded the first Nobel Prize for physics in 1901 for his discovery of the X-ray and later died of intestinal carcinoma in 1923.
Next, my surgeon told me that I would need to have an MRI done in order to get a better look at what was causing my symptoms. Above is a photo I took of my actual MRIs. You can see the herniation and spinal compression plain as day in this photo. The MRI was not only instrumental in determining my diagnosis but in also establishing just how severe the herniation and spinal compression was.
Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) Scanner
Once again diagnostic medicine was revolutionized with the invention of the MRI. The inventor of the MRI, Dr. Raymond Damadian, is also a Hall of Fame inventor, having been inducted in 1989. Dr. Damadian filed for patent protection in November 20, 1978, and the patent issued on October 19, 1982.
Incidentally, we happen to be friends with the now retired primary patent examiner on this case, Kyle Howell. I spoke to Kyle to get his thoughts on the MRI patenting process. Kyle stated that
As a patent examiner, you rarely get the opportunity to see an invention that gives you that ‘Wow, this is really something special’ feeling. But I knew that I was working on something that was going to be a huge development in the medical field.
With the MRI patent application Kyle became a patent examining trailblazer. Up until that point no one at the Patent Office had any experience with this type of technology because it was that revolutionary. At the start of the process Kyle did not understand all of the nuances of the invention, but he worked hard to understand the technology, fulfilling the vital role of a patent examiner. Kyle stated that he knew that the MRI was going to make a real difference in the medical field, and he was right! It certainly has.
Finally, in order to prepare for surgery I had to go to my Primary Care Physician as well as the hospital outpatient lab to complete all of my pre-surgical testing. I needed to have an EKG, blood work and a nasal swab completed before the procedure could take place.
EKG (Electrocardiogram or ECG)
The EKG or electrocardiogram is an invention that evolved over a 25-year span. It started in 1878 when British physiologists John Burden Sanderson and Frederick Page used a capillary electrometer to record two different phases of electrical currents in the heart of a frog. Nine years later in 1887, British physiologist Augustus De’sire’ Waller, with the assistance of his lab technician Thomas Goswell, published the first recording of electrical currents of the human heart. Waller termed his discovery the “Electrocardiogram.” Two years later Dutch doctor Willem Einthoven attended the First International Congress of Physiologists in 1889. While there, he saw Waller demonstrate the recording of electrical activity of his pet bulldog’s heart. Einthoven, expanding on the ideas of Waller, began experimenting on the electrical currents a heart can produce. He perfected the EKG in 1903 when he designed a machine that could pick up the electrical impulses and record them in a wave. Although the machine weighed 600 pounds, was the size of a small room and took five technicians to operate, his machine was stable and extremely accurate.
Because his invention had such a vast and monumental impact on medicine, Einthoven was awarded the Nobel Prize in 1924. He received patent #1,592,628 on July 13, 1926 for his method of receiving the signal from the EKG machine. He was inducted into the Inventor’s Hall of Fame in 2008.
Apparatus for Use in Inserting Spinal Implants Spinal Surgical Devices
Now as a non-techie, non-patent attorney and non-spinal surgeon, I cannot go into detail of the surgical equipment and procedures my surgeon will use during my surgery. I do know, however, that inventors like Dr. Gary Michelson, a 2011 inductee into the Inventor’s Hall of Fame, have revolutionized spinal surgeries, allowing for far better outcomes. In fact, the innovation for which Michelson was inducted into the Inventor’s Hall of Fame relates to minimally invasive spinal surgery. Previously, the surgery would require a lengthy 2-week hospital stay post surgery, but thanks to the Michelson innovation it is now often an outpatient procedure.
In the video montage created to celebrate Michelson when he was inducted into the Hall of Fame he explained that his grandmother suffered from a spinal ailment that caused her to lose feeling in her extremities. He retold a story about a time his grandmother was talking to him while she was leaning on the stove. Her hand caught fire and she didn’t realize at first because of the lack of sensation. He knew then that he wanted to tackle the problem and ultimately went to medical school. He was told not to pursue spinal surgery or back surgery because patients simply never got any better. Michelson said: “I knew there had to be a better way.” It is that spirit that drives innovators on every level. We, the public, are the beneficiaries of their dedication.
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