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VOL. 126 | NO. 170 | Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Medtronic Device Helping People Resume Life

By Aisling Maki

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A man who recently became one of only about 1,200 people ever to complete a swim across the English Channel is the recipient of an artificial disc developed by Medtronic’s Memphis-based Spinal and Biologics Unit that enabled him to dive back into his favorite past-time.

Billy Albans, marketing director of cervical spine for Medtronic, holds Prestige Cervical Disk System, an artifical disc that was implanted on swimmer Doug McConnell.
(Photo: Lance Murphey)

Doug McConnell, a 53-year-old from Barrington, Ill., braved chilly waters, jellyfish, exhaustion and the stress of dodging traffic in one of the world’s busiest shipping corridors to complete the swim from England to France in slightly more than 14 hours.

But McConnell just two years ago had developed a severely herniated disc between two vertebrae in the lower neck, which resulted in the loss of all use in his left arm.

William Albans, director of marketing for Medtronic’s Cervical Division, said that makes the condition relatively easy for physicians to diagnose.

“What can happen as we age is that disc can deteriorate,” Albans said. “If it deteriorates to a point that you have a herniation, that disc will rupture or spit out backwards … and depending on what level it is, if you have a cervical disc herniation, you’re going to have arm pain because it’s pushing on that nerve. A lot of times it’s not the neck pain that debilitates people, but the arm or shoulder pain.”

Albans said oftentimes these injuries happen instantly as the result of a traumatic event. Some patients will benefit from non-operative therapies while others will require surgery.

“Doctors will try to do things to keep them from getting surgery first, like physical therapy and exercises and pain medications,” Albans said. “But the pain usually is so debilitating – they get them into surgery as soon as they can to relieve that pain.”

In McConnell’s case, after physical therapy and other treatments proved unsuccessful, he underwent a cervical disc replacement procedure utilizing Medtronic’s PRESTIGE Cervical Disc system, developed by Medtronic researchers and developers at 1800 Pyramid Place in Memphis.

The device, constructed of stainless steel in a two-piece ball-and-trough configuration, replaces a diseased disc that’s removed from a patient’s neck.

An alternative to the more common spinal fusion surgery that’s been used for decades,

the cervical disc device is designed to maintain motion at the treated vertebral segment, allowing patients to return to their previous activities.

“The fusion is a good procedure, but it’s going to limit your motion,” Albans said. “You may not be able to turn your neck side to side or up and down as much as you did before. You’re not going to have pain; you’re just going to be a little more restricted. The difference here is we’re restoring motion, so you’re going to be able to continue to move after surgery.”

In McConnell’s case, he returned to the pool six weeks after surgery, and slowly built back his endurance. He has since regained strength in his arm and has retained the ability to move his neck to breathe while swimming – pain-free.

Albans said about 250,000 anterior cervical spine surgeries take place annually in the United States, and most are related to a cervical disc herniation.

“Not all of them need an artificial disc, but there’s a subset of them,” Albans said. “This will return you back to what you were doing before. We’ve done everyone from Major League Baseball players to firemen and construction workers. One of our largest patient populations for artificial discs is our United States military, so it’s anyone who’s in high-impact areas who need to get back to that lifestyle.”

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