“It’s the closest thing to a miracle they let us do in a hospital.”
That’s how Dr. David Curry, interventional radiologist at Froedtert & the Medical College of Wisconsin, St. Catherine’s Medical Center and Kenosha Medical Center, describes vertebroplasty, the procedure used to repair the compression fracture experienced by Bob Nelson.
“In a compression fracture, pieces of bone move against each other, causing pain,” Curry said. “We squirt the cement inside the vertebrae and it glues all the pieces of bone back together.”
Curry explained that compression fractures are most often the result of bones weakened by osteoporosis. The fracture can then be caused by something as minor as sneezing, coughing or tripping on a step.
Although compression fractures can heal on their own, this can take up to eight weeks; cementing the bits of broken vertebrae in place resolves pain symptoms in as little as 24 hours.
Curry noted that orthopedic bone cement has been used to repair knees for 30 to 40 years; he has been using it in vertebroplasty since about 2004.
Because the cement sets up quickly, time is of the essence. Curry explained that the cement is mixed at the patient’s bedside and has to be injected within 15 minutes to be sure it doesn’t harden before getting to its intended destination.
Needles are used to stabilize the area, then removed as the cement is applied. Following application of the cement, the patient remains very still. For this reason, three levels (or vertebrae) at most can be done at any given time, said Curry.
Start to finish, it takes about 45 minutes to do one level, he said.
Curry is excited by the technology that restores patients so quickly. “What I say to my patients is, ‘I can’t give you a 100 percent money back guarantee, but I like your chances!’”
When Nelson learned he would have his back patched up with cement, he told Curry that was a funny coincidence, because he’s a cement contractor.
“We think that’s hilarious because he’s in the cement business and I put cement in his back,” added Curry.
Before Curry came to Kenosha from Illinois last May, patients seeking vertebroplasty were sent to Froedtert in Milwaukee.
Before the advent of orthopedic cement, patients with compression fractures had less-attractive options, says Curry.
“In the old days, what did you do? You lay in bed in pain and it would take six or eight weeks to heal because it’s a broken bone,” he said. “The other option is a set of braces like steel circles; one goes under the arm, the other goes to the pelvis to take the weight off the spine — it’s like a Medieval torture device.”
“I tell people these are their options: do nothing, wear the torture device or you can do vertebroplasty.”