Robotic surgery at Norton Healthcare doing more than fixing back - WDRB 41 Louisville News

Robotic surgery at Norton Healthcare doing more than fixing back pain

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LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) -- Tom Frisby slipped on ice in 2011, and instead of falling, he twisted so hard he created a herniated disc. The pain worsened through the years, but he continued trying to bear it the best he could. 

"I had numbness in my feet and eventually the sciatic nerve pain started in my left leg and it just got to where it was unbearable," Frisby said.

He felt helpless for six years, but never wanted to give in to back surgery.

"I've always been a very independent person," he said. "I didn't want to think of back surgery. I wanted to avoid it at all costs."

However, the pain became so unbearable in 2016 that he began the process of finding a surgery that would be right for him. He went to Norton Healthcare and met Dr. Jeffrey Gum, who agreed to do back surgery. Frisby's surgery was scheduled for August 2017, but the day before surgery, Gum called Frisby and asked if he could use a new robotic machine the hospital had received to do the surgery. Frisby said he is a forensic scientist and would love to be a part of using new technology.

Norton Healthcare is one of the first places in the country to get the Mazor X machine, which cuts back surgery time nearly in half.

"It helps us place pedicle screws or spine instrumentation more accurately," Gum said.

Gum said he knew the hospital would be getting the machine before Frisby's surgery. He said he had trained and was more than ready for the surgery. The surgery went as planned, and Frisby said when he woke up after surgery, he felt no more pain in his back, legs or feet. 

"One thing my wife had said was she was happy to have her husband back," Frisby said.

Along with cutting down surgery time, the new technology also saves the hospital money. Gum said patients who have had non-robotic surgery typically stay in the hospital for three to five days after a surgery. With the new machine, patients only stay overnight. The machine is also tackling a bigger issue with the opioid epidemic.

"The robot allows us to minimize incision. We strip less muscle when we're doing a surgery in the back of the spine," Gum said. "It allows us to place the screws a little more precise, so it takes more of the human error out of it.

"One of the goals of utilizing this technology is to be able to decrease post-op pain, which in turn helps decrease post-op narcotic use."

Frisby said he only took painkillers for four days after surgery because he did not want to risk becoming addicted. Gum said a patient who has had a non-robotic surgery typically will take opiate narcotics for three to four weeks, but with less muscle being stripped and smaller incisions from a robotic surgery, he said patients only need painkillers for one to two weeks.

Now Frisby is back to his normal life, walking with his wife, kayaking and playing with his dog. He said he could never thank Gum enough for what he did for his life. One of his hobbies he can now do again his take pictures of wildlife. He took a picture of a bald eagle, and on one of his check-up visits, he presented it to Gum.

"Bald eagles are a symbol of freedom in our country," Frisby said. "I wanted to give him that to thank him for the freedom he had given back to me."

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