iron-man-3-730x400The movie smash hit of the summer is Marvel’s Iron Man 3 and its popularity can be explained on several different levels. The “superhero” in this blockbuster flick is both physically and emotionally scarred, so in many ways, he’s just like you and me. Plus, the action and special effects are non-stop. This science fiction, where the lead character’s  human body part is replaced by an artificial part, is science fact at Texas Back Institute.  How so? Read on.

Artificial disc replacement, pioneered by several spine surgeons at Texas Back Institute, including Dr. Scott L. Blumenthal, is in many ways more futuristic than the suit of iron that brash-but-brilliant industrialist Tony Stark wears to heroic advantage in Iron Man 3. Before delving into the reasons for Stark’s angst and ultimate redemption, we asked Dr. Blumenthal to gives us some insights into the ways he and his colleagues are transforming patients in pain to Iron Men and Women.

Artificial Disc Replacement – Medical Fact not FantasyScott L. Blumenthal, M.D

In post-movie interviews fans of Iron Man 3 have said that one of their favorite aspects of the story is the blurring of science fiction and medical fact. Since you have taken a part of the body – the disc that cushions the spinal vertebra – and replaced it with one that is artificial and more durable, what are your thoughts about this advancement?

When I started in medical practice, we talked about the TV show The Six Million Dollar Man. For anyone younger than 30, this was a fictional story about a man who had been critically injured and had many of his organs, muscles and limbs replaced by much stronger artificial ones. At this point in medicine, this replacement of real with artificial body parts is becoming reality, not fantasy. For generations, spine surgeons have been fusing vertebra when the discs wear out or are damaged.  Our patients were constantly asking “Why can’t you just  replace it?” Well, after much development and testing, now we can. In patients who have back pain resulting from damaged disc we can replace it with one that is man-made.  My colleagues and I formed the Center for Disc Replacement and now the fantasy is going to be main stream medicine.

What enabled Texas Back Institute to be at the forefront of this procedure?

Our advantage came from our opportunity to do the FDA testing of this procedure here at our clinic. This procedure had been very popular in Europe for many years (before being considered in the U.S.) and many people with the resources to travel there, were getting the benefit of this technology by going over there. Because we were asked to assist in this testing, we were the first practice to be able develop protocols for the procedure. Our experience here far outweighed other physicians in this country. We started lumbar disc replacement and went on to cervical disc replacement. We discovered extensive evidence that strongly suggested artificial disc replacement speeded recovery, so our patients returned to work sooner. We found this procedure had better outcomes than fusion and the overall costs were less.

What brought about the development of the artificial disc?

It’s a combination of factors. There is substantial patient demand and the technology in the composition of the artificial discs is excellent and continues to get better than it was 12 years ago when we started. Plus, there is a measurable economic benefit to disc replacement as opposed to other procedures.

Do you mean there are economic benefits to patients in the form of cost vs. outcome?

Exactly. This is why the major insurance companies – not known for their investing in medical technology simply because it seems to be good technology – have decided to cover this procedure. They clearly have good data that proves the costs for artificial disc replacement are reasonable when outcomes, long-term recovery and the incidence of future problems are considered.

What other medical advancements – which may seem like science fiction now – do you see becoming medical fact in the immediate future?

I see stem cell therapy becoming an important new frontier for back surgery and specifically disc damage. Patients are looking for different, non-invasive ways to alleviate back pain and these stem cells – some harvested from the patients suffering from the pain – have the potential to change the way we treat damaged tissue.

Watch Dr. Blumenthal comment on technology and spinal care.


What Makes Iron Man 3 So Interesting?

As the advertising blurbs about Iron Man 3 note, “the movie pits brash-but-brilliant industrialist Tony Stark (also known as) Iron Man against an enemy whose reach knows no bounds. When Stark finds his personal world destroyed at his enemy’s hands, he embarks on a harrowing quest to find those responsible. This journey, at more »every turn, will test his mettle.” Whew! All that in about 2 hours!

As fans of the three movies know, the first of the Iron Man films revealed Stark as a clever, resourceful scientist-adventurer-tycoon who launched his super-character and super-suit while trying to escape from a platoon of Middle Eastern terrorists. This film was followed by a sequel called, Avengers , which did not receive the same level of enthusiastic critical review or box office support. However, the third installment – Iron Man 3 – has critics and, more importantly, paying customers, raving.

Part of the reason this current Iron Man saga has been so successful has to do with the evolution of the lead character played brilliantly by Robert Downey Jr. This star has had his own, well-chronicled personal challenges and the Tony Stark character he plays in the movie is experiencing many of these same – all too human – difficulties.

Iron Man 3 is replete with action, special effects and the superhero formula that seems to cure all boredom. However, the lead character spends less time in his iron suit, fighting bad guys and more time contemplating his place in the universe. One reviewer was on the mark when he noted Stark discovers the answer to the question that has been haunting him: Does the man make the suit or does the suit make the man?

Watch the Iron Man 3 trailer here.

Since Dr. Blumenthal and his colleagues at Texas Back Institute  are turning what was medical science fiction a few years ago into medical fact today, we had to ask him if he had a favorite superhero when he was growing up? His answer should give hope to those who don’t particularly care for Iron Man, but do long to go where no man has gone before!

Blumenthal notes, “Actually, I was not a big fan of superheroes. I’m more of a Trekkie. Fortunately, the new Star Trek – Into the Darkness opens tomorrow and I will be there!”

1st US Service Member to Receive Artificial Disc Celebrates 8 Years Pain-Free

He was a U.S. Marine on Active Duty, planning a career as a Naval Aviator, when a herniated disc stopped everything. Alex Fender saw all his plans postponed, then stopped indefinitely, as physicians repeatedly told him that he would be ‘medically retired’ from the Corps at the age of 21. It was a prediction he refused to accept.

In 2004, Fender met Dr. Scott Blumenthal, a spine surgeon at Texas Back Institute in Plano. After the initial exam, Dr. Blumenthal suggested an artificial disc, which was a new procedure at the time.

Artificial Disc Replacement had just recently been FDA approved back then,” says Dr. Blumenthal, “I had exceptional outcomes since performing the first disc replacement in the US and I knew Alex would be a good candidate for this procedure.”

Fender was up and walking pain-free hours after his surgery. He had no complications, served four more years on Active Duty, and was honorably discharged in 2008.

Today, Fender is a successful entrepreneur in Dallas. He now serves as CEO of Funnel Science, an internet marketing and SEO agency.

“Staying healthy is objective number one,” says Fender. “You can’t get on with your life if you’re not able to get up and go to work. Texas Back Institute gave me that opportunity, and I’m glad to be an example of how well this surgery works.”

Artificial Disc Replacement

September 25, 2012

Dr. Scott Blumenthal was the first Orthopedic Spine Surgeon in the US to perform an Artificial Disc Replacement (ADR) surgery. This life changing surgery has now helped over 1,400 Texas Back Institute patients. Recently SpineUniverse.com featured a blog post about the history of artificial disc replacement.

The History of Artificial Disc Replacement

How Long Has This Spine Procedure Been Used?

          Submitted by on September 10th, 2012

Artificial disc replacement (ADR) or total disc  replacement (TDR) is a surgical procedure which replaces a degenerated disc in  the spinal column with an artificial motion device. It has been used in the  United States since the year 2000, but it originated in Europe almost 30 years  ago.

Before performing the first ADR in the United  States in March 2000, I did a lot of research on the procedure, including  visiting with a number of surgeons in Europe as well as the inventor of the  first FDA-approved ADR, Karin Buttner-Janz. Besides inventing the artificial  disc, she is well-known for being an Olympic and world champion gymnast from  East Germany.

With 12 years of experience, we have now  performed more than 1,400 disc replacements in our private practice alone.  Patients now have access to spine surgeons with extensive experience in disc replacement right here in the in the United  States.

Total disc replacement is an alternative to  spinal fusion. It is an innovative process of surgically removing a damaged  disc from the spinal column and replacing it with an artificial disc. This procedure can significantly benefit patients who suffer from herniated discs or degenerative disc disease with or without leg or arm pain.

Artificial disc replacement gives patients an opportunity to retain  mobility in both the neck (cervical spine) and lower back (lumbar spine). By  replicating the movement of a normal disc, ADR helps to alleviate adjacent disc  degeneration minimizing the need for additional spine surgery due to disc  degeneration or herniation.

Since 2000, a number of FDA studies of other  artificial discs began enrolling patients in the United States. Over a dozen  studies have been completed in the United States and currently there are four  discs approved for use in the United States.

The FDA-approved disc available for the low back  (lumbar spine) is the ProDisc-L.  For the  neck (cervical spine), the Bryan, Prestige, and ProDisc-C are available.

Looking forward to the future of artificial discs  in America: at least a dozen or so discs are either currently in-trial or have  completed the trials for FDA approval and will hopefully be available in the US  soon.

Artificial Disc Replacement

Texas Back Institute is a global leader and pioneer in spine care, having performed more than 1,400 artificial disc replacement procedures with 14 different types of ADR devices, beginning in 2000 with the first ever performed in the United States. One of the latest advancements in spine surgery, artificial disc replacement gives our patients an opportunity to retain mobility and resume their lives with minimal pain or discomfort. Led by the world-renowned spine surgeons at our Center for Disc Replacement, we perform this motion-preserving, life-changing procedure on patients from around the globe each year. If you’re suffering from chronic back or neck pain, our concierge services team will help you coordinate all aspects of your visit to TBI so you can receive treatment from some of the best spine surgeons in the world. It’s your time to get back to life.

BW Beasley…Back to Racquetball!  

BW Beasley came to the Texas Back Institute after suffering from chronic back pain symptoms for years. Ten years earlier, Mr. Beasley had undergone a microdiscectomy with a different physician which only temporarily relieved his pain. He was anxious for a chance to get back to an unrestricted and active lifestyle, as he had been an active golfer and racquetball player before his pain had become too severe. Additionally, he was required to travel for work as a sales manager, and this was becoming increasingly difficult due to his back pain symptoms.

After conservative treatments proved unsuccessful, BW decided to go through with disc replacement surgery with Dr. Jack Zigler at TBI.  Shortly after surgery, the hospital staff had him up walking and into the artificial disc replacement physical therapy program.  BW progressed rapidly and by his 6 month follow-up visit, he was scuba diving and golfing again. Travel was no longer an issue, which made work much more manageable.  At his 12 month follow-up visit, he arrived at TBI with a copy of the Summer 2009 Racquetball magazine that featured an article he had written about playing the perfect game. He had just played in the US Open for Racquetball in his age group—an amazing feat, for someone who was seeking back pain treatment had undergone back surgery less than a year before. He stated that people were amazed to hear that he had an artificial disc and asked many questions about it, his surgeon, and where he had his surgery. “I refer patients to TBI and Dr. Zigler all the time!” he says.

Three years later, he won a national Racquetball tournament for his age group. “I have some trouble with my shoulder and my elbow at times, but not really my back,” he said. He can’t believe that three years have passed and that he continues to do so well after back surgery and feels so good.

“I never thought I’d be able to get my life back,” he says, “but if I can do it, I know others can too.” When asked what BW would tell others worried about undergoing spine surgery, he says, “If you do nothing else, just go see the spine surgeons at Texas Back Institute.  You owe yourself at least that!”

At a dinner party to celebrate her three-month-old daughter’s baptism with family and friends in Texas, Maryam Houston felt pain in her back. Retreating to a bedroom to care for her child, she lost feeling and control of her legs. Fortunately, she got her daughter safely onto a bed before she fell to the floor and was taken to the emergency room. At the age of 24, Maryam couldn’t imagine this incident would be the precursor for a total disc replacement (TDR) surgery a little over a year later.

 Returning to her home in Utah, Maryam sought help and spent five months in physical therapy before her first doctor ordered an MRI, not believing someone so young could have a ruptured disc. But there it was on the scan, a ruptured L4/L5 disc. Maryam then became frustrated with the options presented to her and remembers, “I never felt these doctors listened to me. The back surgeon told me he didn’t ‘believe in the technology’ of artificial disc replacement and recommended a fusion.” 

Familiar with Texas Back Institute, Maryam took it upon herself to get online and research her diagnosis and total disc replacement. She decided it was time to go home once more and receive an expert opinion from Dr. Jack Zigler. Despite the therapy and medical pain management, Dr. Zigler confirmed surgery was needed and she was a candidate for total disc replacement.  

Following the surgery, Maryam immediately recognized results. “I was amazed at how quickly it went!  When I asked Dr. Zigler if my leg pain was gone for good or because of the morphine, he said if he did his job correctly it is gone for good. I told him it was like three Christmases bundled into one. They released me after one night.”

  Since Maryam had surgery in 2008, she has resumed a normal life. She has given birth to another child, run 5K races, snowboarded, and enjoyed other activities and, she adds, “all of the day-to-day stuff I do as a mother of two young children!”

Maryam and her family.

Maryam with her daughter Emma Grace

Maryam with her son, Sawyer.

Finally hitting the slopes.

 

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