‘Game-changing’ OLLIF procedure aims to replace traditional spine surgery for millions

Game changing OLLIF procedure aims to replace traditional spine surgery for millions

Game changing OLLIF procedure aims to replace traditional spine surgery for millions

A Twin Cities surgeon was one of the first in the world to adopt a significantly less invasive procedure meant to replace traditional spinal surgery, and it’s hailed as a “game changer” by a growing population of orthopedic surgery experts.

Still, 12 years and thousands of patients later, the OLLIF (Oblique Lateral Lumbar Interbody Fusion) procedure remains little known, with just a couple dozen doctors in the U.S. practicing it.

The slow rollout of breakthrough surgical procedures is nothing new to the field, but neurosurgeon Dr. Hamid Abbasi of Inspired Spine in Burnsville and an independent orthopedic surgery expert consulted for this report say spreading word of the option could be life-changing for millions.

“I didn’t invent this procedure, but I took it to the next step,” Dr. Abbasi said, sitting down for an interview on Monday.

“The mortality of spinal lumbar fusion (or traditional spine surgery) is 0.2%. It doesn’t sound like much,” he continued, adding, “but if you calculate it for [the] 1.5 million [people who underwent it last year], it’s the equivalent of 20 to 30 passenger jets crashing and dying.”

Many of those deaths were preventable as of the last several years with OLLIF, Dr. Abbasi said.

He’s spent the last 12 working to move the needle from the traditional hours-long spinal surgery — which requires “for lack of a better term, filleting the back open, pushing all the muscle to the side, cutting the muscle, cutting the bone” — to the OLLIF procedure, which he said can be done in under an hour using half-inch incisions.

“We don’t go through the belly, we don’t go through the back, we just go exactly between the border of those two structures with a tube that is barely thicker than a pen,” Dr. Abbasi explained.

University of North Dakota Associate Professor of Surgery and orthopedic surgeon Dr. Colin Fennell has been “on the sideline, watching [the procedure] change and evolve over the last decade.”

“It’s cheaper, it’s faster, better — it works better,” Dr. Fennell said, endorsing OLLIF.

“This particular OLLIF procedure is very capable of transitioning from an operation that, classically, patients would be in the hospital for four or five days afterwards, sometimes necessitating ICU stays, with a much higher blood loss, much higher infection rate, much higher failure rate.”

“After more than 1,600 patients, I have not taken a single patient back to surgery for removing an infection from the back,” Dr. Abbasi confirmed.

A couple of his patients told 5 EYEWITNESS NEWS they were back to life as usual within days or sooner.

“I was at the bank the next day after the surgery,” remarked Dr. Abbasi’s patient, Al Wagner.

Wagner was four days post-operation on Monday.

“Obviously, there’s gonna be some pain,” he said. “But the amount of pain, considering what was done, definitely worth it,” he said.

“Because, just the joy of being able to see, ‘Oh my goodness, I can stand up straight now.”

Wagner said he is looking forward to exercising again, something that’s been tough since he began developing scoliosis.

Because there’s less risk associated with OLLIF, Dr. Abbasi and Dr. Fennell noted that they’ve been able to operate on people who would’ve been turned away in the past — no matter how serious their condition, like older adults or patients with higher BMIs.

“This needs to be one of those arrows in the quiver that they say, ‘Yeah, this is a mainstay of what we do.'” Dr. Fennell concluded. “This is so much better.”

Conditions that may result in the need for surgery vary a lot, Dr. Abbasi said, suggesting patients do their research and that if it comes to surgery, OLLIF is an option.