For 74 year-old Robert Russo, back pain was an all-too-familiar feeling. The retired truck driver said throughout his 45 year career, he traveled millions of bumpy miles.
All those miles finally caught up with him when he was diagnosed with spinal stenosis.
"My legs would burn so bad and my back would ache so much," Russo explained of the pain.
Russo said he had heard horror stories about back surgery, so before jumping to that, he wanted to try alternatives.
First he tried physical therapy. Then spinal decompression. Robert said it temporarily relieved the pain, but didn't cure it.
That led him to Dr. Anthony Leone, an orthopedic spine surgeon at Sister's St. Joseph campus.
"He said we have this new procedure," Russo described his conversation with the doctor. "It's a robot. He says it's 99.9% accurate. He says you're a candidate for that if you would like to have it done."
It's called 'minimally invasive spine surgery'. The doctor said it has been around for a few years, but he is the first to begin regularly performing it in Western New York.
One reason this surgery is not widespread is because of the cost of the robot. Just one of the soda-can-sized machines runs about a million dollars.
Plus, the surgery is uniquely different from traditional spine surgery. It requires many additional hours of education and practice to perform it.
Russo agreed to the procedure and on January 25, went under the knife... and the robot.
"Through this one small 3 centimeter incision and a tube, through which we will do the surgery, we are going to be able to decompress the nerves, spread the bones apart the way we're supposed to be, put in bone graft and a cage, put in screws and rods and basically do everything through that one incision," Dr. Leone explained.
The work is coordinated through a computer mapping program. A CT scan is taken of the person's spine and the computer can take it from there.
The hospital reports it takes the same amount of time to perform the minimally invasive surgery as it does traditional spine surgery.
Doctor Leone said the pros of this surgery over the traditional are significant.
Traditional back surgery includes a 7-8 inch incision with significant blood loss, a 2-3 day hospital stay, large scars and scar tissue and the use of narcotics to control pain.
The robotic assisted minimally invasive surgery includes a much smaller incision, decreased blood loss, faster recovery and less pain, which means less use of opioids.
"The situation with opioids and narcotics being as big of a problem as it's been, having a procedure that tends to steer patients away from longer usage of narcotics is actually a good thing instead of the typical type of situation where patients are on much stronger medication for much longer period of time," the doctor said.
For Russo, just one day post-operation, the nurse had him out of his hospital bed walking around. And by day five, he said he was completely off pain meds.
"Believe it or not, when I stood up, my legs felt like I was back like I was 25 years old" Russo said. "There was no discomfort. There was no nothing. It gave me my life back. It absolutely did."
For more information, visit Doctor Leone's website.