Gary is first in the country to have pioneering back op

A Wakefield man is the first in the country to have revolutionary treatment on his spine. Sophie McCandlish reports.

Pioneering new spinal surgery has given a Wakefield HGV driver a new lease of life after years of debilitating pain.

Gary Spink, who works for Royal Mail, had been in constant pain since his early twenties, became the first person in the UK to undergo the proceedure at Nuffield Health Leeds Hospital.

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Over the years the 46-year-old has had countless hospital visits with multiple consultants, misdiagnoses and missed places on clinical trials, and despite all this, a solution to his back and leg pain could not be found.

“I had no problems at all when I was growing up,” Gary explained, “and it wasn’t until my early twenties that I started to experience back and leg pain. Around this time, I suffered a motorcycle accident and had multiple injuries, broken bones and this also impacted my spine, right in the place where the pain had recently started.

“After being discharged from hospital following the accident, I was experiencing much more pain in my lower back and it had spread to my leg. It was debilitating and meant I could only walk for an hour at the most, during which time it became worse and worse until I physically couldn’t take it anymore. Over the years walking got harder, and before my surgery I was only able to manage a few minutes at a time. It also meant I woke up regularly in the night with pain and was unable to sit in a chair comfortably for any length of time. It was affecting my entire life, severely affecting my relationships with family and friends, jeopardising my career and leaving me feeling like I was just existing in agony from day to day rather than living my life.”

But when Gary went for an appointment with Nuffield Hospital’s Consultant Neurosurgeon Mr Jake Timothy he was able to provide the answer and performed the revolutionary surgery in June this year.

Because his curved spine had caused a trapped nerve leading to leg pain, Gary had to undergo a relatively complex procedure - a reconstruction of the spine and a decompression of the nerve root. This surgery involves a series of screws being placed into the spine to relieve the nerve pain and straighten the back, as well as stop the progression and pain with time. Thanks to the hospital’s advanced technology, Gary’s procedure was minimally invasive and the implants more accurately placed than the previous methods traditionally used to correct this type of problem.

Mr Timothy explains: “I was very fortunate to have been able to give my patient this state-of-the-art spinal surgery. Gary had a congenital abnormality called hemivertebra at the third lumbar vertebra, causing a bend in the spine. This condition also caused progressive nerve entrapment, which was the reason for his severe leg pain.

“I needed to perform a complete reconstruction of the spine and a decompression of the nerve root, which required screws to be inserted into his spine. Normally this procedure would involve a series of X-rays to ensure the screws inserted are placed in the correct plane. But, the additional curve in Gary’s spine complicated the placement of the screws. However, for the first time, we were able to use a combination of a 3D X-ray machine, from Ziehm Imaging, with the Stryker navigation system. This meant that only one X-ray around the patient was taken at the beginning of the procedure. The images were then integrated into the Stryker computer system. All eight screws were placed without the use of further X-rays. A final X-ray was taken at the end of the procedure to confirm that all screws have been placed correctly before the patient was woken up.

“Having access to this advanced technology provided a number of advantages for my team and for the patient. Firstly, the amount of X-rays needed is significantly reduced. Secondly, it mitigates the 15 per cent chance of misplaced screws associated with the traditional technique. This in turn reduces the risk of neurological injury or further corrective surgery. Thirdly, a high quality reconstructed image following the procedure can be taken to ensure all screws are in place before closing the patient and therefore, the patient does not necessarily need post-operative scans.

“Gary has recovered very well and the leg pain has gone. He was able to be discharged and should not need any further spinal intervention.”

Gary, said he couldn’t thank Mr Timothy and his team enough. “I can already feel the chronic pain in my leg has gone and I have no doubt I’ll be able to finally live my life instead of seeing it pass by in constant pain.”