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Memphis Commercial Appeal Reports: Methodist puts spinal surgery on the Internet. Webcast is a 'great educational tool' for back surgeons and future patients.

Dr. Maurice Smith (right) narrates a surgical procedure for herniated discs that he co-invented. The discectomy is available at Methodist. (Photograph by Mark Weber)
After 15 years in the tree service business, Webster Wallace knew his back hurt.

Finally, in February, he realized the wear and tear of lugging around heavy chain saws and limbs, and climbing trees and heavy machinery had taken its toll. The pain had migrated from his back to one of his legs.

Dr. Kevin Foley, a Semmes-Murphy Neurologic and Spine Institute neurosurgeon, said Webster needed surgery for a herniated disc.

Webster had heard of back surgery patients who were laid up in bed for weeks or months, and knew he didn't want to take that much time off work.

But Foley, co-inventor of the METRx minimally invasive microdiscectomy procedure, explained that patients usually are able to go home within a few hours of the procedure and can return to normal work within a couple of weeks.

At 4 p.m. Wednesday, Wallace found himself asleep, lying face down in a darkened operating room at Methodist University Hospital, while Foley performed the procedure in front of three video cameras, which Webcast the surgery live to the world via the Methodist Healthcare Web site,

Dr. Maurice Smith, another co-inventor of the procedure, narrated the surgery and answered questions sent via E-mail from people viewing the procedure at home or work. Foley said he wanted to show the operation on the Web "to make more patients aware that minimally invasive disc surgery is available at Methodist University Hospital and in fact was developed here at Methodist University Hospital."

It also enhances surgeon education, he said.

Gloria Lamb, director of surgical services at Baptist Memorial Hospital-Memphis, said she sees the Webcast as a "great educational tool."

"A lot of people have a lot of curiosity about what surgery is all about," Lamb said. "I think this would satisfy that curiosity for a lot of people."

Baptist Memorial Health Care Corp. has no plans to Webcast any procedures, said Ayoka Pond, a BMHCC spokeswoman.

Instead, her organization focuses on using the Internet, through BaptistMD, for clinical purposes, such as giving doctors access to their patients' information.

Foley and Smith developed the METRx procedure in 1995 at the nearby Medical Education Research Institute, which Foley founded. Medtronic Sofamor Danek now makes the key instrument, a "tubular retractor."

The procedure's goal is to remove fragments of a disc that impinge on a nerve root, which causes severe pain in the buttock and leg.

The disc nucleus is soft and gooey in youth, but dries and hardens with age to the consistency of crabmeat, Foley said. If a bit of this nucleus gets through the disc's tough outer layer, it is known as a herniated disc.

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