Back surgery device restores outdoorsman's active lifestyle


Anyone with chronic back problems knows that debilitating pain can render the simplest tasks impossible.

For someone like Wes Shoen, an active outdoorsman and married father of two boys, his worsening back pain meant a life devoid of his favorite sports: golf, skiing, running. He is also an avid surfer, and the shooting pain made Shoen’s move from water to board more difficult, and he says he wasn’t the same when riding waves in some of the best surf spots in the world.

Shoen, who moved from Highlands Ranch to unincorporated Jefferson County last year, woke up one morning with minor back discomfort and decided he probably slept wrong. That occurred every two weeks, and later became so frequent that he sought help from a chiropractor, who directed him to get an MRI.

The MRI revealed a herniated disc between the L4 and L5 lumbar vertebrae. In the hopes of avoiding surgery, Dr. Zaki Ibrahim started Shoen out with a steroid injection, which worked well before wearing off about a month later.

Shoen moved on to oral steroids for six months, but realized that something needed to change after a vacation to Las Vegas. When Shoen missed the slightest incline or decline on a sidewalk, he would fall and experience immense pain in his lower spine.

“I said, ‘I can’t live like that.’ I was tired of trying to make it work,” the 43-year-old said. “I went to the doctor and I said, ‘I want my life back. What can you do?’”

Ibrahim, a spine surgeon at Parker Adventist and Littleton Adventist hospitals, says he had heard about a machine, the Mazor Robotics Renaissance surgical guidance system, through medical journals, but never expected that one would come to Parker Adventist. The hospital is one of few in the country, and the only one in the Rocky Mountain region, with the spine surgery device.

Shoen was the perfect candidate for the minimally invasive surgery, in which tiny incisions are made, limiting tissue disruption. Ibrahim says he can make a pre-operative plan, based on a CT scan obtained before surgery, to guide the instrumentation to the correct place. A computer software program “registers to anatomic landmarks,” making the insertion of screws to stabilize the spine more precise, he said.

“The idea that you can target particular structures outside of the skin, without seeing them, is novel,” Ibrahim said.

He directed Shoen, who had gained weight after going nearly two years without skiing, golfing or running, to watch a video about the Mazor Robotics Renaissance guidance system. That was all it took.

“In my mind, it was an easy decision,” said Shoen, a project engineer for a natural gas company.

On Jan. 31, he was among the first to undergo the advanced surgery at Parker Adventist; only 16 surgeries have taken place since the system’s arrival in October 2012, but that number is expected to increase dramatically.

One month to the day after the surgery, Shoen was doing light running, and he “felt 100 percent” at two months. At exactly the four-month mark, he was in Costa Rica surfing his first waves with his 8-year-old son. He says today that he cannot tell that he has had surgery.

Because the surgery is minimally invasive, recovery time is cut in half, Ibrahim says.

Shoen did not have to undergo any physical therapy, despite having what has historically been considered a major surgical procedure.

“It was the best decision ever,” he says.


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