Healthline: Total disc replacement

BATON ROUGE, LA (WAFB) - Total disc replacement has been around for about 10 years now, and one local doctor says the procedure is becoming increasingly popular with younger patients with disc problems. Dr. Samer Shamieh says many now ask for the surgery by name. People like Andy Lauber.

"I just rolled over in bed and felt something kinda pop, and then it took me about 20 or 30 minutes to get out of bed," Lauber said from a pre-op waiting room. "And then about an hour later we were on the way to the emergency room."

That was early in the morning on May 10th – Mother's Day. Lauber woke up to extreme pain down his entire right arm and between his shoulder blades. X-rays and an MRI revealed a herniated disc between two vertebrae in his neck. The pain was being caused by the protruding disc pinching a nearby nerve.

"This is a very common thing that happens among young adults, a little bit males more than females," Dr. Shamieh said. He's an orthopedic surgeon with Diagnostic and Interventional Spinal Care (DISC) of Louisiana. The practice runs four clinics around south Louisiana, and Shamieh operates out of Champion Medical Center in Baton Rouge.

Lauber met with four surgeons before being referred to Shamieh. All four recommended a spinal fusion, the gold standard and most common treatment for his condition. A fusion involves removing the disc and then permanently fusing the two vertebrae together.  

"Being 33-years-old and having two of your vertebrae fused together for the next – hopefully I live to be 100 – that's kind of a tough pill to swallow," Lauber explained.

Because a fusion can slightly restrict mobility in the neck, Shamieh suggested total disc replacement with a minimally invasive method.

"This is the tube that I operate through. It's 18 millimeters in width," he explained while holding up the small tube.

Shamieh and Lauber agreed to let our cameras film the procedure.

Once Lauber was stabilized on the operating table, a series of x-rays helped Shamieh visualize the spine. A small incision was made in the front of the neck – only an inch and a half long. With the help of a special microscope, Shamieh then removed the herniated disc. Three little fragments were responsible for all of Lauber's pain. Using a high-powered drill, Shamieh shaved away some of the vertebrae and made a notch where the artificial disc would eventually be placed.

The implant is a plastic disc with metal teeth on each side. The teeth fit inside the notch, and then the bone eventually grows around them, holding the implant in place for years to come. The design allows for natural range-of-motion in all directions and takes pressure off of the other discs, as opposed to the traditional fusion procedure.

"With minimally invasive surgery, you get less blood loss, less chance of infection, shorter hospital stays, less pain, and shorter incisions," Shamieh said.

In a Skype interview from his New Orleans home two weeks after the surgery, Lauber said he felt great.

"I was very surprised, I mean it's almost unnoticeable," he said pointing out the incision on his neck.

He's now pain free and ready to give his new disc a workout.

"As soon as I woke up from the anesthesia, I realized that all of the symptoms that I had going into the procedure were completely gone. I'm looking forward to playing golf and fishing again real soon."

Shamieh points out that total disc replacement is not for everyone, especially those with multiple discs affected. Talk to your doctor to see which approach is right for you.

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