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New spine surgery technology is faster and radiation free

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After a car accident with a tractor trailer in 2019, Melina Pedraza was in pain every day.

The 46-year-old Bridgeport resident said she’d have pain and weakness throughout the lower part of her body, including her hip and her toes. “At random points of day, it felt like someone was lighting my foot on fire,” Pedraza said.

She had nerve damage, and was losing feeling in part of her left leg. She also had weakness in her legs. “(When standing up), I’ve had to catch my balance,” Pedraza said. “For somebody in their 40s to have a hard time walking isn’t a good thing.”

When other treatments didn’t help, she opted for spinal surgery, which she had on March 18. Pedraza is one of roughly 10 patients operated on using the new 7D technology at St. Vincent’s Medical Center in Bridgeport.

The hospital, which started using 7D at the beginning of this year, is one of the few facilities in the state using the technology, said Dr. Gerard Girasole, co-director of the CT Orthopaedic Institute at Hartford HealthCare and St. Vincent’s.

The technology creates a three-dimensional image of the area being operated on, which has multiple benefits, including improved accuracy. Girasole said there are other technologies that can produce 3D images, but they all use large amounts of radiation.

What makes the 7D technology unique, he said, is that there is no radiation. Instead, the image is created using only a special light source. “It’s physically a light that recognizes the (patient’s) anatomy and reads it to the computer,” Girasole explained. “The light is the eyes of the computer. Then the computer gives you perfect 3D navigation.”

Not only is the 7D procedure safer because of the lack of radiation, Girasole said, but using the light source to create the image takes less time than other methods, such as robot-assisted surgery or another method call the O-arm surgical system, meaning the entire procedure takes less time.

A shorter procedure often means that the patient is under anesthesia for a shorter period of time, Girasole said. “Patients under anesthesia for shorter periods of time statistically have a better outcome,” he said.

The 7D technology can be used for most spine surgeries, though there are still some more difficult procedures that could require one of the other imaging methods, Girasole said.

For Pedraza, the 7D surgery seems to have made a big difference. Though she’s still recovering and receiving physical therapy, she said, she’s getting stronger every day and has noticed at least one major positive change.

“Not being in pain every single day has been nice,” she said. “Being in pain every day really wears you down.”

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