By Jana Soeldner Danger
Tommy Braga, a retired police officer and lead singer in a pop rock band called Mainstreet, knew something was wrong when he started having bouts of severe pain in his neck and back. “I thought it was a pinched nerve,” he says.
Later, he started feeling numbness in his left arm. At age 51, he worried the problem might be his heart, but tests came back negative. An MRI revealed a tumor attached to his spinal cord near the skull. In addition, he had spinal stenosis, an abnormal narrowing of the spinal column. He needed surgery.
Instead of traditional surgery, however, which can require removing bone and fusing vertebrae with screws and rods, Braga had a minimally invasive procedure that sculpts the spinal canal and can dramatically reduce the loss of spinal structure. Dr. Jeff Cantor, a Fort Lauderdale spine surgeon, has been using the BoneScalpel, developed by Farmington, N.Y.-based Misonix and cleared by the FDA in 2007, for about 2 ½ years.
The electronic device uses a cutting tip — oscillating at 22,500 times per second — to relieve pressure within the spinal canal while avoiding damage to soft tissues like muscle, nerves and blood vessels. Instead of having to remove the cover of the spine and cutting away vertebrae to access the problem area, the surgeon makes a tiny window to insert the device and then hollows out the canal.
“It’s a new tool that’s changed the whole paradigm,” Cantor says. “It’s so precise it can melt the shell off an egg without perforating the inside. We can manipulate it in tiny spaces and delicate areas to relieve pressure and compression; and because of its safety, we can get very close to nerves. It also allows us to save the important structures necessary to hold the spine together, so it limits the need for fusions.”
When fusions are necessary, they can cause problems later that may require additional surgeries, Cantor says. “But with this technique, it might be the last surgery a patient needs.”
Braga says he is thrilled with his recovery. “I didn’t realize how limited the movement of my neck and head had become,” he says. “I have better range of motion and I’m pain free. Sometimes I forget I had it done.”
His scar is barely noticeable, he says. “They even managed to save a tattoo at the base of my neck.”