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New spinal surgery program sees great success in Wood Buffalo

Health Foundation supports program growth

With support from the Wood Buffalo community, a new orthopedic spinal surgery program offered at the Northern Lights Regional Health Centre continues to grow and accommodate patients in the best way possible.

The Surgical Department of the Health Centre does a wide variety of procedures in the areas of general surgery, obstetrics and gynecology, ears, nose and throat procedures, dental surgery and orthopedics.

Orthopedic surgery in and of itself provides patients in the Wood Buffalo region with a variety of services. This discipline is currently led by orthopedic surgeons, Dr. Andrei-Razvan Manolescu and Dr. Irfan Tahir Qureshi, with assistance and support from a team of nursing staff including Karen Espersen, Manager of the Operating Room.

“We repair fractures – fractured arms, wrists, legs and ankles,” she says. “We do a lot of trauma surgery and now spine surgery as well.”

“The spinal surgery program is brand new to this facility and began being offered this past December,” says Espersen, who oversees the Health Centre’s Operating Room, Recovery Room, Day Surgery, Pre-Op Clinic and surgical booking. “In November, we sent two staff members to Edmonton to the University of Alberta Hospital for spine surgery training for four days. When they returned, they were able to assist in the education and orientation of the other staff in the Operating Room.”

According to Dr. Manolescu, who leads the new spinal program, back pain is a common ailment with approximately one in five people experiencing it at some point in their lives. Because of this, surgery is in high demand.

“Because back pain is so common, there’s a huge demand for spine surgery. In our facility, the spinal program addresses primarily degenerative spine disease.” he says. “This is especially the case with the population living here in Fort McMurray. In many communities, you see degenerative spine disease in older people that are perhaps in their 70s or older. However, here it tends to affect younger people between the ages of 25 and 55 with a traumatic component. We see a lot of young people who are of the labourer population, so they work hard and their spine takes the hit.”

Because the high demand for spinal surgery, it’s had a significant impact on wait times throughout the province of Alberta and subsequently on patients’ health. Outside of Fort McMurray, the program is currently only offered in Calgary, Edmonton and Grande Prairie.

Dr. Manolescu goes on to say that chronic back pain is a complex ailment and requires a multidisciplinary approach to treatment.

“Chronic back pain is a multi-faceted, multi-factorial entity. It’s treated nowadays not only by a spinal surgeon and nurses but with a multidisciplinary team, including a physiotherapist, a pain management specialist and a pain psychologist,” he says. “In our program, we’ve done our best to emulate this holistic approach. Due to the fact that we know these people have been suffering for so long, they’re seen by me and by our physiotherapy team. We also work with a pain clinic in Edmonton to connect patients with pain management specialists and pain psychologists.”

“Anesthesiologists also play a huge role in the care we provide because they help determine what medications the patients will need in dealing with their pain moving forward,” he says.

According to both Dr. Manolescu and Espersen, the spinal program has seen very good successes for the people they’ve treated so far.

“We’ve had people who were severely disabled where they can’t work, they can’t stand or even hold a coffee cup, make significant improvements as quickly as two weeks after surgery,” says Dr. Manolescu.

“It’s unbelievably rewarding to see and a great service offered to the community,” says Espersen.

According to Dr. Manolescu having the spinal surgery program offered in Fort McMurray has made a tremendous impact on wait times for those patients awaiting spinal surgery in our community.

“Due to the fact that we started this program, we’re able to offer spine surgeries with an unheard of wait time. Patients tend to see me in two and half to three months, then they have their surgery within two months. Within five months we have someone operated on, whereas anywhere else you go, it would take probably 18 months or more just to have the consult with the spine surgeon,” he says. “The most optimistic statistic is that we’re three times faster than anywhere else in the province right now. This is fully acknowledging that we’re just getting off the ground and it may not stay that way, but this is the situation right now.”

These exceptional wait times haven’t gone unnoticed, with spinal clinics in Edmonton beginning to refer some patients to Fort McMurray. Dr. Manolescu sees this as a positive.

“It raises our profile within the landscape of health care in our province,” he says.

Both he and Espersen go on to commend the Operating Room multi disciplinary team and the nursing team for the success of the spine program thus far.

“We really commend the nursing staff for making this program possible. A tremendous amount of work has gone into making this program a success, to the point that our department has actually been recognized by our peers through an Alberta Health Services (AHS) SPIRIT of Excellence award for teamwork,” says Espersen.

To ensure the spinal program’s continued growth and success, the Northern Lights Health Foundation recently funded over $300,000 in equipment.

“Ideally we would own two to three sets of equipment for the surgeries. However, due to funding restrictions, we were in the position where we could only rent the equipment and only have access to one set. This put huge stress on everyone involved from the nursing staff to the patients,” says Dr. Manolescu. “With only one set, if something happens like the equipment falling on the floor, you have to postpone the procedure."

In purchasing the appropriate equipment, the surgical team can  minimize patient risk and wait times.

“Having two to three sets on hand means that we don’t need to stop the procedure if something happens. We can simply use another set, then we’re able to complete the patient’s procedure as planned with no additional risk or wait,” says Dr. Manolescu.

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OR Spinal Program Team - April 16 2015 007.jpg

Dr. Andrei-Razvan Manolescu and Karen Espersen with their orthopedic spinal surgery team at the Northern Lights Regional Health Centre.

 

 

 

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