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Spring 2018: Highlights from CU Neurosurgery

As we say goodbye to spring and hello to summer, we’d like to share our most memorable stories of the season from Columbia University Irving Medical Center/NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital. We hope you enjoy these highlights:

  1. Could Medical Marijuana Be a Solution to the Opioid Crisis? Dr. Winfree Examines the Evidence

An expert in pain management and pain disorders, Dr. Christopher Winfree has become a strong voice in the opioid crisis. Last year, he took part in a host of activities to raise awareness about safe prescribing, new laws and alternative treatments, such as dorsal root ganglion (DRG) stimulation.

And he’s not done.

At this year’s meeting of the Congress of Neurological Surgeons, he addressed a controversial topic: medical marijuana. In his talk, he explored the concept that medical marijuana may be one way neurosurgeons can ease a patient’s pain while avoiding addictive opioids.

Medical marijuana is controversial in part because it is not legal in every state. However, Dr. Winfree noted that states are more frequently approving medical marijuana use. This change is likely because evidence shows marijuana to be not only effective but also safer than opioids for treating a spectrum of conditions, including chronic pain.

(In addition, Dr. Winfree is a member of the Healthcare Leadership Council, a team of leaders in healthcare, that recently released “The Opioid Crisis Solution Roadmap,” a report with recommendations addressing the current opioid crisis.  You can learn more about the report in a summer season Columbia Neurosurgery blog post..coming soon…)

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2. Match Day 2018: Young Doctors Find Out the Future

Match Day never fails to excite. Typically the third Friday in March, Match Day is a very special day rooted in tradition and full of celebration. It’s the day medical students learn which program they have been “matched” to for their advanced training, also called residency.

This year, we welcomed three outstanding medical students to our program:

“The competition for a Columbia neurosurgery training position is intense, as more than 200 applicants applied for the three intern positions we offered this year,” says Dr. Jeffrey Bruce, director of the residency program at the Department of Neurosurgery. “We have great expectations for our new interns, who we know will become great neurosurgeons and will make significant contributions to our specialty. We look forward to having them join our clinical team and provide high-level care for our patients.”

As we welcome our new residents, we also congratulate those who have completed residency and are now fully trained neurosurgeons.

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3. Gamma Knife Center Celebrates 20 Years Treating Patients

The Gamma Knife Center has reached a big milestone. For 20 years now, patients have been coming to the Center for Gamma Knife radiosurgery. Gamma Knife radiosurgery is a noninvasive treatment that involves aiming low-frequency beams of gamma radiation at a target area in the brain while sparing healthy brain tissue from high doses of radiation. This is an alternative to surgery for several conditions, including Parkinson’s disease, trigeminal neuralgia, brain tumors and arteriovenous malformations (AVM).

What better way to celebrate than to share some of the big moments? Like the time the Center underwent a $2 million upgrade to the Leksell Gamma Knife ICON system, allowing patients the benefit of a frameless treatment option. Or the time Dr. Michael Sisti used ICON to treat the Center’s 5,000th patient, Delia, for a brain tumor. And of course there are the many heartwarming stories of patients, including high school senior Tom Mahala, who was cared for by Department Chair Dr. Robert Solomon and Dr. Sean Lavine.

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4. This April, Don’t Be Fooled—Be Amazed

We’ve started something new: debunking myths in honor of April Fool’s Day. This year, we debunked the popular myth that a patient is always unconscious during brain surgery.

In truth, for some patients, a portion of brain surgery is done while he or she is awake. This is called “awake craniotomy” or “awake brain surgery.”

Why would a patient ever need to be awake during brain surgery? The reason is to help the neurosurgeon map, or graph, the important regions in the brain before operating on such a fragile organ. Dr. Marc Otten, who specializes in this technique, uses a map to help him navigate the brain safely.

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5. Raising Awareness About Stroke, Brain Injury and More

At Columbia, we take raising awareness seriously. So much so that this spring we covered four brain conditions in-depth: stroke, brain injury, acoustic neuroma (a rare type of brain tumor) and Parkinson’s disease.

Doing so empowers patients with knowledge that can make a real difference. For example, knowing the warning signs of stroke can lead to faster medical intervention and improved outcomes.

Similarly, for a concussion the best treatment outcomes usually happen when a brain injury is detected early.

Raising awareness is especially important for rare diseases because patients may not be aware of all the treatment options. For example, a patient with an acoustic neuroma may not know about a nonsurgical treatment option, Gamma Knife radiosurgery.

Spreading the word about a disease can also fuel research for better therapies. For example, although Parkinson’s disease is common and patients have treatment options, the cause is usually unknown, and more effective treatments are needed. Research could change that.

The designated months to raise awareness may have passed, but the need to raise awareness never does. So take some time to refresh your knowledge about stroke, brain injury, Parkinson’s disease and acoustic neuroma.

To continue reading about stroke…
To continue reading about brain injury…
To continue reading about acoustic neuroma…
To continue reading about Parkinson’s disease…

Learn more about the Columbia neurosurgeons featured in these stories at their bio pages below.

patient journey

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