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Robotic Spine Surgery Provides Pain Relief for St. Vincent Patient

475x285 SVH Robo Spine

Billings, MT - When Christopher Smith and his twin brother were born three and half months premature in August 1990, the doctors didn’t expect either to live for very long.

“They both weighed just under two pounds,” Christopher’s mother, Vicki LaFond-Smith, recalled. “We spent four months in the NICU at Primary Children’s Hospital down in Salt Lake City. We were home by Christmas.”

Last August, Christopher and Matthew celebrated their 30th birthdays.

But the past 30 years haven’t been without adversity. Christopher has significant cerebral palsy and is wheelchair bound.

“He’s nonverbal and is cognitively around 2-3 years old,” Vicki explained.

As his mother and caregiver, Vicki noticed Christopher was experiencing some pain and discomfort. But they couldn’t pinpoint it right away.

“When he was 11 years old, Christopher had rods placed in his spine for scoliosis,” Vicki said. “What we found was that one of the rods had broken off at some point, probably quite some time ago, but was now causing pain for Christopher.”

Their doctor in Helena said they’d need to see a neurosurgeon, so Vicki reached out to the St. Vincent Healthcare Neuroscience Center for Brain and Spine. There, they met with Dr. Robert Lynagh who recommended robotic spine surgery as the best treatment option for Christopher.

Robotic spine surgery is designed to improve safety and accuracy within the operating room by allowing better visualization of patient anatomy through the procedure to help optimize patient treatment.

“Having the robot places our patient care and our region at the forefront of spine surgery,” said Dr. Lynagh.

Globus Excelsius GPS is designed to improve accuracy and optimize patient care by using robotics and navigation, much like a GPS in your car.

On the day of surgery medical images are taken and imported into Excelsius GPS. The surgeon uses these images to determine the size and placement of implants and creates a patient plan based on your anatomy. This is used to guide the rigid robotic arm to a specific region of your spine, similar to a planned route or pathway on a GPS. The surgeon uses this pathway or route to accurately place the implants using instruments.

Throughout the procedure, the surgical instruments and implants are continuously displayed on the screen for the surgeon and staff to monitor. This display allows the surgeon to view live feedback during the procedure for more precise implant placement.

“I have greater confidence in the accuracy of the placement of the hardware,” said Dr. Lynagh. “The benefits of less operative time are less anesthesia, less medications, less blood loss, less overall risk.”

Christopher successfully underwent spine surgery on April 7 and is healing well.

“I thought he was kidding at first when he said a robot would do the surgery,” Vicki said with a laugh. “But he insisted that patients like Christopher recover almost immediately. I honestly thought it all just sounded too good to be true. But the day after surgery, he was moving around comfortably and I could tell his back pain was gone.”

“My number one goal in care is to find out what is bothering the patient more than anything else. And if I’m able to find that, identify it and then have a surgical plan to treat it, I think that’s huge. Having the patient recover and being pain-free, happy and living a better quality of life; that’s all I can ask for.”

Now that his back pain is gone, LaFond-Smith is eager to get Christopher back to doing the things he loves — like camping, boating and bowling. 

St. Vincent Healthcare and St. James Healthcare in Butte are proud to be the only hospitals in Montana performing robotic spine surgery with the Globus Excelsius GPS robot.

Local News Coverage:

Billings Gazette

Q2 News

KULR8 News

About SCL Health

SCL Health is a faith-based, nonprofit healthcare organization dedicated to improving the health of the people and communities we serve. Founded by the Sisters of Charity of Leavenworth in 1864, our health network provides comprehensive, coordinated care through eight hospitals, more than 180 physician clinics, home health, hospice, mental health, and safety-net services in Colorado and the Montana Wyoming region.