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Health Beat: Breakthrough back surgery — fixing faulty spines

Health Beat: Breakthrough back surgery

SAN FRANSISCO - About 300,000 spinal operations are performed each year in the United States, but one in three of those surgeries will result in failure. When a procedure goes wrong, patients are often left with few options. Now, one doctor who is fixing spines and changing lives.

Sharion Wilton is happiest with a needle and thread in hand, but quilting was just too painful when Wilton injured her spine 15 years ago. It happened after she passed out and fell in her bathroom one night.

"I put my head through the wall," Wilton said.

Excruciating neck pain and migraines followed.

"It felt like a hot poker in my back," Wilton said.

She had a spinal fusion to fix the problem, but over time, the discs on either side of her spine disintegrated. Dr. Kenneth Light said her spine was fused in an awkward position.

"It made the discs above work twice as hard when the patient looked straight ahead," said Light, a spine surgeon in San Francisco.

Light cut where it had been fused, straightened it, and replaced the faulty discs with two artificial implants.

"By cutting the fusion and putting the disc replacement in, it allowed the spine to straighten itself," Light explained.

Wilton was one of the first patients to have the surgery.

"I feel like a brand new woman. I do. I feel like I got my life back,: Wilton said, and now pain isn't interfering with her quilting.

The disc replacements should last a lifetime. In rare cases, the implants can migrate into the bone, but Light said that risk is extremely unusual.

Spinal implants have been used in Europe for more than 30 years, but they have only been used in the U.S. for about seven.

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DOWNLOAD and VIEW the full-length interview with Dr. Kenneth Light about breakthrough back surgery

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