Health: New device makes back surgery easier for surgeons, patients

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By Tami Hoey By Tami Hoey

PHOENIX -- When he couldn't find the tools he needed, a Valley surgeon took matters into his own hands, and came up with a device to make back surgery easier for both doctors and patients.

A spine can collapse due to a number of diseases, including degenerative disc disease. And Dr. Luis Tumialan says the fix should not be complicated, because essentially all he really needs to do is open up the disc and place a spacer.

"We would be able to straighten the darn thing out, but it would not stay," he says. "It would collapse because there is no way to keep that open"

What that meant was open surgery was the only option, because doctors needed a retractor to hold those discs open.

"How am i supposed to get that  size retractor inside a minimally invasive access port?" he wonders.

But Tumialan felt there should be a way to do this surgery in a minimally invasive manner.

"The development of the ipsilateral provisional expandable rod, or the J-rod, as I call it, came from the idea of my son playing Lincoln Logs," he says.

After watching how his son Julian stacked Lincoln Logs, Tumialan came up with the new device, nicknamed the J-rod, after his son.

Dr. Tumialan places the J-rod through a one-inch incision, He pushes the discs apart with a small paddle, and it locks the space open, while he places a spacer.

He says it has helped a great deal during back surgeries. "Not only could I do them as well, I was doing them better," he says. "I was doing them faster."

For patients, it is a faster and easier operation than they ever imagined. They usually go home the next day and Dr. Tumialan says recovery is generally easier as well.

"This is not your father's lumbar fusion," he says.

Dr. Tumialan has patented the device and will publish a full report for colleagues in December.