Science and Technology News

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Cutting-edge technology: Computer-assisted surgery

by Airman 1st Class Omari Bernard
JBER Public Affairs

3/14/2013 - JOINT BASE ELMENDORF-RICHARSON, Alaska -- The sharp whine of a saw fills the room as a surgeon prepares to do his job.

The surgeon prepares to make an incision, yet instead of looking at the patient, he looks to the computer screen next to the operating table.

He plans the procedure by what he sees on the screen.

"The 673d Surgical Operations Squadron on JBER prides itself on providing cutting-edge surgical care to our base population and beneficiaries here in Alaska," said Air Force Lt. Col. Benjamin Kam, commander of the 673d Surgical Operations Squadron.

Air Force Maj. Tom Paynter, an orthopedic surgeon with the 673d Surgical Operations Squadron, performed the first computer-assisted total hip replacement in the state of Alaska using the Stryker Navigation System. He was able to free his patient from the shackles of pain and give him a new lease on life.

An orthopedic surgeon is a surgeon who deals with musculoskeletal concerns.

Acute fracture care, injuries to ligaments, and some chronic musculoskeletal conditions can be treated by joint replacement.

"Joint replacement is performed for end-stage arthritis that can no longer be treated by addressing the severe daily pain," Kam said. "Other procedures may be performed that can be life-altering when the arthritis is less severe."

"A joint replacement involves putting in a combination of metal and polyethylene, which is a fancy plastic," explained Paynter. "It can replace a damaged or arthritic joint.

"The joints that are inserted have to last many years, decades hopefully," Paynter explained. "The goal with computer-assisted surgery is to aid the surgeon in making
sure that the implants for the joint replacement line up ideally so they have minimum wear, function better and last longer."

With computer-assisted surgery the surgeons use computers to help guide where the components should be or where the implant should line up.

Paynter mentioned that over the last five to ten years, computer-assisted surgery has become more popular.

"The surgeon is still making the incision and doing all the hands-on work," Paynter said. "We just have the computer sensors assist us in making the cuts in the bone and
the cuts in the skin, in order to hopefully have a better functioning device and a patient with an implant that lasts longer."

Patients are informed beforehand if computer assistance will be used.

"I tell my patients that I will be using a navigation device or computers to assist with the surgery," Paynter said. "They seem open to the idea. People feel it's a benefit."
According to Paynter, studies have shown there are fewer outliers with computer-assisted surgery - which means that implants are closer to their ideal location.

That adds up to fewer complications. There are still many studies that are ongoing to determine the benefits.

Computer-assisted surgery is not a shortcut, however.

Paynter explained surgery time is extended anywhere from 10 to 15 minutes based upon the studies.

"Those of us who do the surgery think it is worth the extra time to do the implants in the proper location to have a good functioning implant for 20 to 30 years down the road," he continued.

Orthopedic surgeons like Paynter take pride and are gratified by what they can do for others.

"Its an extremely rewarding job," Paynter said. "Especially dealing with a lot of young active-duty patients.

"To get them back to the same level of activity following an injury and allowing them to return to duty and perform the athletic activities that they like to do is extremely gratifying."

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