Calgary surgeon performs spine operation on conscious patient
'The next day I was up cooking breakfast for my grandkids,' says patient
An Alberta doctor who performed a spinal surgery on a man at Calgary's Foothills Hospital while the man was awake hopes to expand the scope and reach of awake spine surgeries in Alberta to better serve high-risk patients.
Last month, Dr. Michael Yang, a Calgary-based surgeon, performed a procedure on a patient while he was conscious and given a local anesthetic as opposed to a general anesthetic.
"We want to do more awake surgery in Calgary and we want to do more complex surgery awake in Calgary," Yang said.
"So this is the first step in the grand plan of being able to do these."
Yang became familiar with the innovative practice during his fellowship at the University of Miami, where such operations were a lot more common.
He says the team plans to perform more procedures, and hopes to expand to some other types of spinal surgeries, to create faster timelines that could ease the pressure on the health-care system in the province.
In a traditional case, a patient would be under anesthetics and intubated with a breathing tube.
For Todd Bene, the man on the operating table, the situation was different. He was alert, sitting upright for parts for the procedure, and was communicating with the doctors and surgeons.
Bene had been suffering from chronic pain due to a damaged disc in his back.
That pain was over, however, after about 50 minutes — the approximate length of the operation.
"The next day I was up cooking breakfast for my grandkids and everything else," Bene said. "It was just night and day pain-wise."
Yang explained that Bene had a previous heart attack, heart failure and that he also has coronary artery disease.
Performing the surgery under general anesthetic posed a risk, Yang said, because it can induce a lot of stress in a patient and can lead to heart complications.
He noted that while the surgery itself was "minimally invasive," it was not necessarily groundbreaking in a procedural sense.
But the process and teamwork, and what it means for the future of health care and technology in Calgary, was.
"We do a lot of minimally invasive surgery in Calgary, but it's the collaboration between neuro-anesthesia and the whole team to be able to do it awake — that was innovation," Yang said.
- An earlier version of this story included a statement from Alberta Health Services that it believed this procedure was the first awake spinal surgery in Canada. CBC News has since learned that surgeons and specialists in Saskatchewan have been doing spine surgeries like the one mentioned in this story for several years, according to the Saskatchewan Health Authority.Mar 23, 2023 10:04 AM MT
With files from Dave Gilson