In no other country would you see leading-edge technology in a city the size of Alexandria.
But it’s here.
Dr. Hamid Abbasi performs a minimally invasive spine surgery that could put Alexandria on the map as a medical destination.
Abbasi is one of about 30 neurosurgeons in the U.S. performing oblique lumbar inter-body fusion (OLLIF) – a minimally invasive spine surgery providing back pain relief.
Over the last two years, he has reportedly performed 180 OLLIF procedures, drawing patients from the Twin Cities, Wisconsin, North Dakota and South Dakota.
Five years from now, he said he foresees bringing in patients from across the nation.
“By then, we’d like to have a very large center [established] with the community and the hospital… People from Texas and New York will fly in [for the OLLIF procedure] while their family goes to our lakes. We’ll do the procedure as a day surgery and then they join their family after the surgery for dinner at one of the beautiful lakes around here and spend the weekend – summer or winter,” Abbasi said.
During the OLLIF procedure, a neurosurgeon pins vertebrae, allowing the spine to return to its original position, relieving nerve pressure and pain.
“A disc is like a tire of a car that cushions the car against the road, the disc cushions the bone from each other,” Abbasi explained. “Like a tire, a disc can have wear and tear that with time and the aging process, usually collapses.”
When a disc collapses, it pushes on the nerve, causing back pain that can be severe.
“We restore the disc space to its original height,” he said.
OLLIF was introduced about three years ago, and it’s a technically-demanding procedure, the doctor said.
This version of OLLIF allows surgeons to enter the body through the back, compared to another version of “OLIF” introduced by Medtronic where surgeons enter through the abdominal cavity.
Rather than making large incisions through muscle and nerves, OLLIF allows neurosurgeons to create a path through the muscle, leaving it alive to protect the bone – one of the reasons healing is faster after the OLLIF surgery, Abbasi said.
Fifty years ago, this type of surgery meant taking a piece of hip bone and putting it in place in the spine. Patients would typically lose a liter or more of blood, the surgery took several hours to perform and it would take months to recover, Abbasi explained.
Twenty years ago, screws were introduced to internally brace the vertebrae, but it still required several hours of major surgery and lengthy recoveries.
“Unfortunately, even though technology has come a long way, this is still the standard of care today,” Abbasi said.
By comparison, Abbasi said, on November 25, he performed three OLLIF procedures and finished before 2:30 p.m.
“This procedure is a combination of lots of knowledge that we’ve had for many decades, but now they all converge and make it possible to do the procedure in 45 minutes,” he said.
The smaller incisions heal much faster, patients lose far less blood, results are achieved with less damage to muscles and nerves, hospital stays are shorter, and patients are relieved of pain faster.
An upright MRI machine (one of three in the U.S.) and other advanced equipment at Tristate Brain and Spine Institute in Alexandria make it possible for Abbasi to pinpoint areas of the spine that will be addressed during an OLLIF procedure.
“I think this is a fantastic place to practice medicine,” Abbasi said. “The patient population is the greatest, the community is really a good place to live and practice.”
Dr. Abbasi said he sees Alexandria becoming a medical destination for minimally invasive spine surgery.
“We want people to come to this community to get their medical care – literally a reverse of travelling and medical tourism from our community – let’s bring them out here. We have everything we need to make that happen. It will have a tremendous impact on the community,” Abbasi said.
Other U.S. cities have become medical destinations for orthopedic procedures for knees, shoulders and more.
“They have been tremendously successful and the reason they’re successful, they don’t do 50 different procedures, they do maybe five, but they are doing it very, very well. The concept is not new, but for the spine, this is a new concept,” Abbasi said.
In addition, making Alexandria a medical destination for OLLIF may be enhanced if Dr. Abbasi’s medical journal paper is published in a major journal.
“We think we have all the results to establish OLLIF as standard of care coming out of Alexandria, Minnesota,” he said.
The paper will reportedly compare open surgery to minimally invasive surgery.
“Practically for first time in the history of spine surgery, you can send the patient home the same day or next day – that was unbelievable even a few years ago,” Abbasi said.
“Effectively, this procedure really should be and will become standard of care.”