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SRMC opens spine center with novel surgery technique

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From left, UNM Department of Neurosurgery Chairman Dr. Howard Yonas, Eileen Yeung, her husband Dr. Anthony Yeung and UNM Health Sciences Chancellor Dr. Paul Roth cut the ribbon for UNM Sandoval Regional Medical Center’s new endoscopic spine surgery center. (Courtesy photo)

From left, UNM Department of Neurosurgery Chairman Dr. Howard Yonas, Eileen Yeung, her husband Dr. Anthony Yeung and UNM Health Sciences Chancellor Dr. Paul Roth cut the ribbon for UNM Sandoval Regional Medical Center’s new endoscopic spine surgery center. (Courtesy photo)

University of New Mexico Sandoval Regional Medical Center hopes to change how spine surgery is performed in this country, with help from a UNM Medical School alumnus who has devoted decades of his career to innovation in the field.

Dr. Anthony T. Yeung received his medical degree in 1970, began practicing in Arizona that same year, became certified with the American Board of Orthopedic Surgery in 1977, and has worked at the Desert Institute for Spine Care in Phoenix since 2001, according to his résumé.

UNM honored Yeung during a ribbon-cutting ceremony at SRMC on April 25. He and his wife donated $2.5 million for the new spine center there.

“Dr. Yeung is the pioneer of a brand-new type of spine surgery in which a small tube is used and that tube serves as both a camera and as a device for you to put instruments into to do the surgery,” said Dr. Fred Harrington, director of the new endoscopic surgical center.

The minimally invasive surgical technology and endoscopically guided laser spine technique developed by Yeung has received approval from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, according to UNM Health Sciences Center news release.

The tools he uses are 1/6th the size of surgical tubes used in regular minimally invasive back surgery and as small as 1/20th the size of what might be used in a conventional back operation, according to the release. The procedure targets a disk for removal and almost never requires bone removal, said Harrington, who visited Phoenix to learn from Yeung. A Band-Aid can close the small incision and the procedure involves less pain and a faster recovery than is available elsewhere.

Harrington said Yeung “feels, at this point in his career, he needs an academic institution to take this field of surgery and scientifically validate, improve upon if possible, and expand the field in such a way that its advantages and positive features are available to as many Americans as possible.”

Six patients have already received the procedure at SRMC, Harrington said.

“Our plan here is to be a Center of Excellence for this kind of surgery,” Harrington said. “We also plan to be a teaching center for other surgeons to come and learn and then apply these techniques in their own practice.”

Yeung said he would spend some time getting the new center started and then shift to training by telemedicine, where physicians at SRMC can watch online as he performs surgery in Phoenix.

Revolutionizing the science of spine surgery has required overcoming some skepticism, Yeung said. At least one insurance company is taking a close look at the procedure and deciding whether to cover the cost, he added.

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