To combat the lack of access to spinal surgeons and equipment around the world, San Diego-based NuVasive Spine Foundation held a charity golf event Sunday.
The foundation sends U.S. surgeons and equipment to countries with inadequate access to spinal care to perform surgeries and train local doctors.
“We don't just want to go into a place and do surgeries and then say ‘look what we did' and leave,” said Kay Sirianni, NuVasive's program manager for corporate events. “We want to be able to train [local doctors] so they can support their own communities and be trained properly.”
Drs. Richard Bwana Ombachi and Oliver Soren Otieno are two Kenyan spinal surgeons who work with the Spine Foundation. They say the foundation allows them to help patients they otherwise would be unable to treat.
“They give us the implants for free to be able to help the patients with and they also send along spine surgeons from the U.S. to help us refine our skills,” Otieno said. “Originally, we would do the same procedure maybe in one case a month because of lack of implants. The patients are there, but your hands are tied.”
Ombachi said there were only five spinal surgeons in Kenya before NuVasive came in. In the four years the foundation has helped, several residents have trained at Kenyatta National Hospital and three are expected to become spinal surgeons.
Another problem the doctors faced before their partnership with the foundation was fear of spinal procedures among the local population.
“Originally, when there were very few people doing it, and without the right skills and right equipment, the results were not that predictable,” Otieno said. “In the last four years, we have actually seen that fear change to demand because they now believe in the outcomes.”
The foundation, while mostly focused abroad, also does work in the United States.
Bill Walton, NBA Hall of Fame player and San Diego native, had a procedure done using NuVasive implants and techniques and is a vocal advocate of the foundation’s work.
“This company, this organization, the NuVasive Spine Foundation, the Better Way Back program, all of [these] things we're involved in save peoples' lives.” Walton said. “It gives people their lives back.”
Walton, who had had 37 orthopedic surgeries, said his back pain was so pervasive that he considered suicide.
Calling his spinal surgery a “miracle,” he now tries to spread information about what is available to people who are suffering back problems.
Alex Lukianov, NuVasive’s CEO and founder of the NuVasive Spine Foundation, said that after the company became profitable and that he was a patient himself, he felt the need to give back.
“What gets us out of bed is that ability to change spine surgery and return people back from really debilitating conditions to their normal activities,” Lukianov said.
The foundation focuses on developing minimally invasive techniques for spinal surgery.
Lukianov said that spine operations traditionally involved large incisions in either the back or through the belly. NuVasive’s techniques involve going in through the side, which can dramatically reduce recovery time for the patients.
The foundation set its fundraising goal for the tournament, played at the Maderas Golf Club in Poway, at $300,000, but expected to raise $350,000.
7475 Lusk Blvd.
San Diego, CA 92121