Healing through Innovation

Roland Wood is a native Idahoan, born and raised in Burley. Now 68, Wood worked for many years as a farmer and later as a field representative for Dairy Farmers of America. With a lifetime spent working the land combined with 40 years of officiating high school sports, it’s not surprising Roland had back pain. Then a fall off a ladder two years ago left him with severe sciatic nerve pain. Roland was in desperate need of surgery to relieve his back pain.

He called David Verst, MD, an orthopedic spinal surgeon and former chairman of orthopedic surgery at St. Luke’s Wood River. Along the way, he learned Dr. Verst was performing minimally invasive spine surgery with the latest advanced technology.

“I read an article in the Idaho Statesman on Dr. Verst and the robot and was very impressed,” Roland said. Thankfully for Roland and others, the generosity of the Wood River community made a state-of-the-art spinal robotics navigation system possible last year. The technology, called the Mazor Robotics Renaissance Guidance System, offers pain relief and faster recovery after surgery. St. Luke’s Wood River was the first hospital in a five-state region to offer the new minimally invasive orthopedic spine surgery.


The system is innovative in that almost all the work takes place “before we even step foot in the operating room,” said Dr. Verst.


Before surgery, a patient has a CT scan done. The doctor then uses the CT image and the new technology to create a three-dimensional image of the spine. This image is then used to pre-plan the surgery. Essentially, the surgeon has a surgical blueprint of the anticipated spine surgery before he or she enters the operating room. Prior to this technology, the surgeon would make a large incision to expose the spine and use anatomical landmarks to decide where to place the screws during the surgery.


With the new robotic system, the surgeon “pairs” the pre-planned surgical blueprint to the patient’s body once they’re in the operating room. The programming then tells a small robot (about the size of a soda can) to move its arm to a certain location and insert an implant, take a biopsy, or perform another task. Throughout the surgery, the Renaissance system provides precise positioning guidance and assistance while the surgeon performs the procedure. Precision is critical in spinal surgeries, as being off by just a millimeter or two can have adverse consequences. And it is the integration of precise robotic navigation with specific patient CT scans that enables a surgeon to perform minimally-invasive procedures. Compared to traditional procedures, minimally-invasive surgeries can mean less pain, smaller incisions, shorter hospitalizations and faster recovery, all of which are good for patients.


According to Dr. Verst, “The robotics for spine surgery has improved accuracy, efficiency and proficiency—ultimately leading to improved safety and better outcomes. It’s made surgery more enjoyable for everyone.”


Roland can attest. “The afternoon after my surgery the pain was gone,” he said. “My back is now stronger than it’s ever been. I’m back playing golf, not very well, but I’m back on the course and the pain is gone, that’s good for me!”