Kuils River surgeon trained in radical spinal surgery

Dr Shawn Venter (seen as the second person from the right), is an orthopaedic spinal surgeon practising at Netcare Kuils River Hospital and has successfully performed the first unilateral biportal endoscopic (UBE) surgery in South Africa.

Hailed as a first for the country, a Netcare Kuils River Hospital surgeon has trained for and performed a cost-effective spinal surgical technique that drastically improves patients’ recovery.

The hospital’s orthopaedic spinal surgeon, Dr Shawn Venter, has succeeded in performing the new unilateral bi-portal endoscopic (UBE) surgery after recently completing an intensive international training programme for the technique.

“(UBE) brings together the specialist fields of orthopaedics and neurosurgery, combining elements of both into a single procedure,” Dr Venter said.

He said the technique embraced the camera technology already used in knee and shoulder keyhole surgeries, which are done through small incisions, with minor adjustments while enabling surgeons to use traditional neurosurgical spinal decompression and fusion equipment for the surgery.

Dr Venter describes the UBE as the perfect combination between detailed visuals of the spine’s and neural anatomies, and the finesse of neurosurgical techniques on the spine.

He said the technique began gaining traction in global medical circles in 2018. Dr Venter said he could have started training for the technique in 2020, but Covid-19 scotched his plans, delaying the importing of this highly-specialised skill to the country.

He travelled to Türkiye in June this year, where he trained under orthopaedic specialist Professor Hayati Aygün, who is a former understudy of the original pioneer of this type of surgery, Professor Sang Kyu Son, of South Korea.

He described his week-long training as intensive and included live surgeries.

Dr Shawn Venter with the theatre team. From left to right are: Prosthetics representative, Jacques de Villiers; anaesthetic nurse, Nancy Siphambo; anaesthetist, Dr Cornelius van Der Heyden; orthopaedic spinal surgeon, Dr Shawn Venter; circulating nurse, Suku Khanyeli; radiographer, May Botha; and registered nurses Knowledge Cele, and Rene Mars.

“The left hand operates the camera system and the right hand operates the neurosurgical spinal equipment,” Dr Venter said of the technique.

He said the technique makes spinal surgeries cost-effective as the camera equipment is already widely used throughout the country.

“The benefits to this type of surgery are numerous and significant,” Dr Venter said.

He said the technique radically reduces tissue trauma and patients experience no muscle damage from large incisions usually done in other types of surgeries.

“This means that patients can experience immediate mobility in the muscle groups supporting the back and avoid the major rehabilitation hurdles they would face with conventional surgery,” Dr Venter said.

He said the first patient to undergo the procedure at the Netcare Kuils River Hospital had had a herniated disc, which cause severe leg pain radiating from the back through the spine and into the leg. “Following the surgery, the patient experienced pain relief immediately and was discharged the next morning,” Dr Venter said.

He said the technique lends surgeons a bird’s eye view, and gives them unparalleled capabilities compared to other types of spinal surgery.

Dr Venter said this was so because the camera system has high-definition visuals of the anatomical structures and areas in the body which, in other surgical techniques, were considered “no man’s land”.

He said while patients’ recovery times may vary, patients are able to recover quicker after a UBE surgery.

To assist the new-found skill and boost the hospital, Netcare Kuils River Hospital general manager Dirk Truter said they have established a dedicated four-bed ICU for the centre, which will open before the end of the year; they will build new consulting rooms for the spinal theatre; and upgrade the specialised theatre light system with built-in cameras.

“The Spine Centre at Netcare Kuils River Hospital is well-known for its highly specialised services, not only in practice but also in terms of the invaluable training and learning opportunities the centre provides to other spinal surgeons,” Mr Truter said.

“We are honoured to have such experienced specialists practising here, to be able to serve our community alongside them and to provide such a high level of person centred care to ensure the best possible outcomes for our patients at all times.”