Internal "Spine Cast" Works Miracle

By: Jon Kalahar Email
By: Jon Kalahar Email

If you didn't know Mark Barnett before his accident one year ago this month, he's not much different now. He's back to work and his strength is back to the point he can work out again.

"As far as the ability to do things, the only thing different is my right vocal cord is paralyzed," said Barnett.

The jolt from the car hitting his bike hurled him through the windshield and left only movement in his left arm. But most importantly, his spinal cord was only stretched, not severed.

"He actually dislocated this joint that connects the two and allows the head to move separate from the spine," said UMC neurosurgeon, Dr. Louis Harkey.

The spine was disconnected from the skull. Harkey and a team of doctors had to immobilize Barnett's neck in such a way to allow a bone graft to heal, but that could also mean limited head movement.

"The problem with that is there is a great deal of motion that occurs between the first and second cervical vertebrae," Harkey said.

That's where the CHJ plate comes in. Patented by Harkey, it's like an internal cast for the spine.

"Basically a plate that's screwed to the skull, and then screws that go into the first vertebrae, and then rods that connect the two and that is completely ridged," said Harkey.

Less than two weeks after surgery, Barnett was walking. He underwent some intense rehab, but he was back at work four months later. Lucky doesn't begin to explain Barnett's recovery.

"Just a little more force and the spinal cord could have been damaged beyond repair," said Harkey.

"I had my mind so focused on rehab that I wasn't really thinking about anything else," Barnett said. "Once you read it though you realize how bad it really was and how lucky I am."

The car that hit Barnett was totaled. But that didn't stop him from buying it, just as a reminder of what happened.

And this procedure, reconnecting the first vertebrae and the skull, is the only one of its kind in the country. Harkey says the first vertebrae is usually too damaged to reconnect.

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