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New Fix for Bad Backs

Procedure is another option when surgery fails.

About 300 thousand spinal operations are performed each year in the U.S., 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 says he can give patients another option. 

Sharion Wilton is happiest with a needle and thread in hand, but quilting was just too painful when Sharion 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," Sharion Wilton said.

Excruciating neck pain and migraines followed. "It felt like a hot poker in my back,"Sharion 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 says her spine was fused in an awkward position.

"It made the discs above work twice as hard when the patient looked straight ahead," Kenneth I. Light, MD, Spine Surgeon in San Francisco, California said. Dr. 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," Dr. Light explained.

Sharion 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," Sharion 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 Dr. Light says that risk is extremely unusual. Spinal implants have been used in Europe for over 30 years, but have only been used in the U.S. for about seven.

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