O-arm changes the way surgeons "see" in operating room

3-D images have never been available in the operating room before, but now, a large donut-shaped piece of equipment called an "O-arm" is changing that.

The O-arm fuses old and new technology to change the way surgeons "see" during delicate operations. "It allows you to take essentially an intraoperative CT scan and then navigate with it," said CHRISTUS St. Patrick Hospital neurosurgeon, Dr. Brian Kelley.

There is a tiny margin for error in intricate spinal and brain surgeries. The O-arm acts like a GPS, tracking surgical instruments in relation to your anatomy and giving the surgeon a better view during surgery. "All of the instruments and the patient themselves are registered with the imaging that is taken in a three-dimensional fashion," said Dr. Kelley.

Once the patient is on the operating table, the O-arm is lined up with them and it closes down from a C-shape to an O-shape. Then, the x-ray technician is ready to take the images. "The images come through a very high-powered computer that allows the images that are taken by the O-arm to be transformed into a three-dimensional image," said Dr. Kelley.

It takes a maximum of 22 seconds to get the high definition, real-time 3-D images of your anatomy during surgery. The surgeon then uses those images to know exactly where instruments can be placed without damaging nearby tissue. "It's safer for the patients, when the technology is applied right," said Dr. Kelley, "it's faster and it lowers the complication rate."

The O-arm gets images before and after surgery, confirming that pins and screws are placed exactly where they need to be. "To be able to see it and move the image three-dimensionally and to be able to see the trajectory you're pointing before you get there," said Dr. Kelley, "it allows planning and that's something we didn't have before when we were using two-dimensional images."

The O-arm imaging system uses radiation and there are risks associated with that exposure. The amount of radiation is within safety standards.

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