Doctor performs first awake spine fusion surgery at Vail Health

June 28, 2019 / Vail Daily-Staff Report

Dr. Ernest Braxton, a neurosurgeon at Vail-Summit Orthopaedics & Neurosurgery, introduced a breakthrough procedure at Vail Health by completing a successful spine surgery with his patient awake.

The surgery, a transforaminal lumbar interbody fusion, took approximately two hours, during which the patient was awake, alert, comfortable and able to watch video on an iPad. This new minimally invasive technique should lead to quicker recovery times and offer several additional benefits to the patient.

“I’m excited to introduce this new procedure to Eagle County,” Braxton said in a Vail Health release. “This is the first of its kind in Vail, and to my knowledge, the first of its kind in Colorado.”

Dr. Braxton performed awake spine surgeries in Texas before moving to Vail in 2017. He says awake spine surgery is a growing trend among minimally invasive spine surgeons but is currently only available in major medical centers on the East or West Coast.

During an awake surgery, the patient is treated with localized pain blocks, avoiding the need for general anesthesia and after-surgery pain narcotics. An expert in minimally invasive spine surgery, Dr. Braxton says by removing the need for anesthesia, certain risks presented by traditional methods are eliminated, which is especially pertinent at higher altitudes.

Dr. Braxton adds that patients with back problems tend to be a vulnerable population who are at risk for narcotic addiction.

“So, eliminating or reducing the postoperative narcotics required for this minimally invasive procedure is significant.”

The awake surgery also allows a spine surgeon to examine patients in real time during the procedure. Dr. David Ruttum was the administering anesthesiologist during the procedure and said doing an awake spine surgery is revolutionary.


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Drue De Angelis

Drue is Managing Partner for The De Angelis Group, Executive Search firm exclusively for the Ortho & Spine industry.

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