Jersey City Medical Center offers spine surgery patients faster recovery

Two surgeons working and passing surgical equipment in the operating room hospital healthcare against the background of the spine X-rays

Dr. John Shin, an orthopedic spine surgeon with RWJBarnabas Health Medical Group, recently performed the state’s first unilateral biportal endoscopic spine surgery at Jersey City Medical Center, an RWJBarnabas Health facility.

The unilateral biportal endoscopy for lumbar spine offers new possibilities for adult patients suffering from degenerative spinal conditions, such as spinal stenosis, herniated discs and spondylolisthesis, a condition in which a vertebra moves out of place. Through one small incision in the lower back, the surgeon inserts a high-definition endoscope, which provides a clear, magnified view of the spine and neural elements. This magnified view helps enhance accuracy and precision as the surgeon guides surgical instruments through another small incision in the back.

The procedure was pioneered by spine surgeons in East Asia, introduced in the U.S. in 2019 and emerged on the East Coast in 2022. Shin was trained in the procedure at NYU Langone Orthopedic Hospital in New York. Fluent in Korean, he also received additional training in South Korea from spine surgeons who are global leaders in using this technique.

Shin is one of only a handful of surgeons in the Northeast to perform unilateral biportal endoscopic spine surgery. Sixty-two-year-old Grant Armstrong of Vancouver, British Columbia, traveled to Jersey City Medical Center for the procedure.

Because endoscopic spine surgery requires only small incisions, surgeons are able to preserve more of the native soft tissues of the back, including muscles and ligaments, resulting in reduced blood loss, a lower risk of infection, less pain and faster recoveries for patients than with traditional open spine surgery. Patients are usually able to leave the hospital within 24 hours, compared with a longer hospital stay for patients who have traditional open spine surgery.

“Back pain and leg pain can be very debilitating and can restrict one’s ability to do everyday activities without pain and their ability to simply enjoy life,” said Shin, who is also on staff at Cooperman Barnabas Medical Center in Livingston, another RWJBarnabas Health facility. “Endoscopic spine surgery is a new option for more frail patients who may not be ideal candidates for traditional open spine surgery, helping relieve their pain, regain their mobility and improve their quality of life.”

Seeking a solution to her burning lower back pain, Lisa Gergen was referred to Shin, who discovered that her lumbar spine had a herniated disk, a condition in which rubbery tissue between vertebrae in the spine slips out of place and puts pressure on nerves. Gergen was eligible for the UBE surgery, and Shin performed the procedure last December.

“I didn’t have any burning in my lower back at all,” Gergen said after her surgery. She returned home the same day. UBE is one of many surgeries offered at RWJBarnabas Health facilities. Orthopedic surgeons and neurosurgeons throughout the hospital system offer minimally invasive techniques for a range of spinal problems, including microsurgical neurological care, spinal stabilization, spinal fusion, disc arthroplasty, disc replacement, repair of herniated discs, deformity corrections, decompression of spinal tumors and repair of vertebral compression fractures. Jersey City Medical Center also recently introduced robotic spine surgery using Globus Medical ExcelsiusGPS technology for cervical, thoracic, lumbar and sacral procedures of the spine.

“RWJBarnabas Health is committed to being on the forefront of orthopedic care with experienced surgeons who are leaders in their field,” Michael Prilutsky, executive vice president, RWJBarnabas Health, president, Northeast Region, and CEO and president of Jersey City Medical Center, said.

“By providing the latest technologies and procedures such as endoscopic spine surgery, we ensure that patients never have to leave New Jersey to get the highest level of orthopedic care.”


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