Kyphoplasty

Medicine and Health

As I’ve mentioned before, I am currently working as a medical assistant in pain management. It’s now been almost a month that I started my new job and I love it! I get to work alongside the best pain management doctors in my area and have learned so much in a short amount of time. Last week, I had the privilege of shadowing several Epidural Steroid procedures as well as a Kyphoplasty procedure. It was the coolest thing I’ve seen since tori removal back in my oral surgery days. If you don’t know what a Kyphoplasty is, keep reading because this post is all about it!

What’s a Kyphoplasty?

A Kyphoplasty is a procedure performed to correct vertebral compression fractures (VCF) through the use of polymethylmethacrylate (PMMA) aka bone cement. The leading cause of VCFs is osteoporosis (Cooper and O’Fallon, 1992), but falling or high risk activities like lifting heavy weights could also lead to a fracture. Due to the nature of the fracture, VCFs can be very painful; the vertebral body collapses causing the patient to lose height in their spine. During the procedure, a hollow needle is inserted into the body of the vertebra through the pedicle. An inflatable balloon is then placed inside, inflated to restore the vertebral height and to create a working channel for the cement to flow into. The entire procedure is guided through a fluoroscope and contrast medium.

Why a Kyphoplasty?

Other treatment options for patients with painful VCFs include non-surgical management (NSM) and a Vertebroplasty procedure. A Vertebroplasty is very similar to a Kyphoplasty. The primary difference is that a balloon is not used to create a working space for the cement to flow into and the cement used tends to have a lower viscosity. Both of these factors increase the most pertinent risk associated with the procedure: bone cement extravasating into the epidural space. Without a working space, the physician doesn’t have as much control of where the cement is flowing into. Also, bone cement viscosity is identified as a decisive guideline influencing leakage in a Vertebroplasty, so using a cement with a higher viscosity reduces the risk of extravasation (Giannitsios, 2005). In fact, the incidence of leakage during a Vertebroplasty ranges between 2-67% compared to 0-13.5% for a Kyphoplasty (Denaro, 2009). Other risks to consider include heart attack, cardiac arrest and stroke. In addition to surgical procedures, there are also NSM options for patients with VCFs. These include bed rest, pain relief medication and back bracing. Compared to patients who undergo a Kyphoplasty procedure, patients following a NSM treatment plan for VCFs experience less pain relief and improvement (Meirhaeghe, 2013). For these reasons, if a non-surgical treatment is insufficient, a Kyphoplasty is often the preferred treatment option for VCFs.

What are the main indications for the procedure?

  • Patients with Osteoporosis
  • Patients experiencing intense pain adjacent to the level of the fracture
  • Patients diagnosed with a fracture by an MRI, CT or X-Ray
  • Patients who failed non-surgical management for at least 4 weeks
  • Patients with lesion causing benign and metastatic tumors

Which patients are not candidates for the procedure?

  • Patients who did not fail non-surgical management for at least 4 weeks
  • Patients with asymptomatic vertebral compression fractures
  • Patients with allergies to materials used in the procedure such as PMMA or barium contrast
  • Patients with bleeding disorders that are unmanageable

How is the procedure performed?

  1. The patient is placed on the table, face down with a gown open to the back. The patient’s skin where the needle will be inserted is prepped with an antiseptic solution. Most patients are sedated for comfort and since the procedure is minimally invasive, local anesthetic is primarily used.
  2. The provider starts by inserting a bone access needle into the area affected to determine the trajectory of the working cannula. Once it’s confirmed through the fluoroscope that the access needle is at the correct location (on pedicle of vertebra), a bone drill is used to create a pathway through the pedicle into the vertebral body.
  3. Once the pathway is created, a curved-tip osteotome is inserted into the vertebral body and manually curved/directed towards the fracture.
  4. The balloon is inserted through the hollow needle and inflated to compact the soft porous bone inside of the vertebral body. Doing this not only restores the natural height of the vertebra but also creates a working channel for the cement to flow into. This decreases the chances of the cement flowing to places it shouldn’t flow into and gives the doctor more control of the cement’s trajectory. A contrast is used to visualize the inflation of the balloon and its location through the fluoroscope.
  5. Finally, the balloon can be removed and cement is injected into the working channel under pressure using a special cement filler cannula. The pressure and quantity of cement being injected is strictly controlled to prevent leakage. The needle is removed slowly and carefully, ensuring the cement is not following the needle forming a “tail.” This is done by waiting for the cement to slightly harden and monitoring its progress through the fluoroscope.
  6. The needle is removed and the incision is closed with either steri-strips or skin glue. Once the remaining cement on the table hardens, the patient is ready to be moved to the recovery room.

Pictures from the procedure I shadowed:

Works Cited

Giannitsios, D., Ferguson, S., Heini, P., Baroud, G., Steffen, T. (2005). “High Cement Viscosity Reduces Leakage Risk in Vertebroplasty”. European Cells & Mat 10, Poster No. 314. http://www.ors.org/Transactions/5thCombinedMeeting/0314.pdf

McCall, T., Cole, C., Dailey, A. (2008). “Vertebroplasty and Kyphoplasty: A Comparative Review of Efficacy and Adverse Events.” Current Reviews in Musculoskeletal Medicine, Vol. 1: 17-23, doi: 10.1007/s12178-007-9013-0. https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s12178-007-9013-0

Meirhaeghe, J., Leonard, B., Steven, B., Jonas, R., John, T. (2013). A Randomized Trial of Balloon Kyphoplasty and Nonsurgical Management for Treating Acute Vertebral Compression Fractures. Spine, Vol. 38 Issue 12: 971-983, doi: 10.1097/BRS.0b013e31828e8e22. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/23446769/

Denaro, V., Longo, U., Nicola, M., Denaro, L. (2009). Vertebroplasty and Kyphoplasty. Clinical Cases in Mineral And Bone Metabolism: The Official Journal of the Italian Society of Osteoporosis, Mineral Metabolism, and Skeletal Diseases, Vol. 6 Issue 2: 125-130. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2781232/

My International Medical Volunteer Trip

Pre-Med

This week’s blog will be a little different than the usual. Instead of me taking the lead, I let you guys ask questions about my volunteer trip abroad. In December of 2019, I went on a 1 week medical mission trip to Costa Rica. I graduated that same month and that was my graduation gift to myself. It was one of the best experiences I’ve ever had and it made me realize how much I love volunteering and why I want to be in medicine. I could sit here and write 10 pages on my experience and why I think everyone should do an international volunteer trip at least once in their life. Instead, I’ll answer questions you guys have about my trip.

Here are answers to the top asked questions about my trip:

1. What organization did you use?

I volunteered with International Volunteer HQ. I researched different organizations for a couple of weeks, and decided that IVHQ was the one for me because it was affordable and I felt safe traveling with them. I joined their facebook group and asked questions to current and past volunteers about their experiences and how they liked it. Every person I asked said their trip was very safe, the organization was reliable and their experience was life changing. IVHQ also had the most destinations available in comparison to other organizations. Their projects aren’t all medical, this means that if you want to volunteer in a different area or let your talents shine, you can.

Aside from Medical and Health, some of their other projects include:

• Childcare
• Teaching
• Wildlife and Animal Care
• Construction and Renovation
• Environment and Conservation Arts and Music
• Sports
• NGO Support
• Refugee Support
• Women’s Empowerment
• Community Development
• Elderly Care
• Special Needs Care

They have volunteer opportunities in:

• Africa (Ghana, Kenya, Madagascar, Morocco, South Africa, Tanzania, Uganda, Victoria Falls, Zambia)
• Middle East (Jordan)
• Asia (Bali, Cambodia, China, India, Laos, Nepal, Philippines, Sri Lanka, Thailand, Vietnam)
• North America (Mexico, United States)
• Central America (Costa Rica, Guatemala)
• Caribbean (Belize, Jamaica, Puerto Rico)
• South America (Argentina, Brazil, Colombia, Ecuador, Peru)
• Europe (Belgium, Croatia, Greece, Italy, Portugal, Romania, Spain)
• Pacific (Australia, Fiji, New Zealand)

2. How much did it cost?

Every project and destination will have a different cost. The cost depends on where you go, what project you are doing, how long you will be staying and whether you will want to do other “touristy” activities before you leave. The Costa Rica medical trip I went on was only $445 for 1 week. The rest of the cost covered flights, a background check, transportation and other small fees like lunch and snacks. The program was very independent. We were volunteering through their local organization called Maximo Nivel and aside from being dropped off at our host family’s house, we had to get around on our own.This meant taking the bus to and from work and doing anything else while we were there. In total, I spent about $1,300 for everything. The most costly were the flights because I booked them last minute and couldn’t find any deals ($600 for round trip, ouch!). I didn’t have to pay for breakfast or dinner because my host mom cooked for me and of course, I stayed at her home for free. I only had to pay for lunch and transportation. Tourism was an option, but the cost of my trip would’ve increased and I would’ve had to extend the trip to accommodate the extra activities. Considering I was there to primarily volunteer, I didn’t worry too much about the extras. I wanted to volunteer and live like a Tica for a week. I rode the bus, ate Gallo Pinto, and practiced my Spanish. Depending on how much money you have to spare, you can add different excursions and activities to your trip to mix tourism and volunteering. It’s entirely up to you!

3. Were you allowed to do “hands-on patient” work?

Yes and no. I was required to submit proof that I was a pre-pa, pre-medical or pre-dental student. I also had to submit proof that I had some sort of experience in the medical field. Not every volunteer needs to do that though. Depending on how many science classes you’ve taken and your major, you don’t have to provide proof of Certification or health care experience. Since I was just starting my pre-requisites, I submitted proof that I was a Certified Expanded Functions Dental Assistant (CEFDA) and had 2 years of experience. I worked in a nursing home and was able to shadow the nurses, doctors, nurse practitioners and physical therapists. I was also able to feed the patients, transport them, help change their clothes and participate in fun activities. Aside from patient care, I helped with laundry and cleaning. My house-buddy was in nursing school at the time and she volunteered with me at the same nursing home. She was allowed to do a little more than I was, so it really depends on your experience and how much you know. Everyone was very supportive and trusting. They let you get as much hands-on as you want, you just had to take the initiative.

4. Were translators provided?

No! Translators were not provided and we had to get by on our own. This was intimidating at first but I am so thankful for it. I practiced my Spanish the entire week and came back home speaking Spanish 10x better than before I left. A lot of my friends there had google translate open and used it to communicate. I spoke the most Spanish out of our group, so most of the time, I was translating for them. Costa Ricans are very welcoming and had no problem trying to communicate with us. Don’t be shy if you don’t speak Spanish or the language spoken in the country you volunteer at. Embrace the experience and communicate through compassion. A smile is understood universally, so is a hug, a handshake, a pat on the back. Use hand gestures and body language to communicate. If you want to practice and learn the language, they did offer Spanish classes for students who were interested. The classes were divided into different levels and ranged from $125 to $390 a week depending on whether the class was private and the size of the group. So if you are intimated by the language barrier, that is always an option. A little costly, but, an option.

5. Did you volunteer the entire time or were there other activities?

I mostly volunteered, but there were options to do a lot of other activities. Some volunteers were planning on staying for weeks or months, so they traveled during the weekend to different tourist spots. I was only there for 1 week, so I wanted to spend 95% of my time volunteering. Various activities and excursions were offered through the organization and they were affordable. Some volunteers decided to explore on their own and utilized Uber or public transportation to site-see on their own. Unless you are with a group, I wouldn’t recommend that because it’s not as safe as having a guide. I volunteered the entire week and on my last day went to La Paz Waterfalls with friends I made on the trip. It was a lot of fun and since there was a big enough group, we were able to split the fare making the excursion fairly inexpensive. If you have more than a week to spare, you can chose different volunteering and tourism options. Some volunteers will work for 1 week and travel for the other or will travel on weekends and work the full 2 weeks. It all depends on how much money you want to spend and how much time you to have to spare.

6. Did you pay for everything alone?

Almost. I had $200 in donations from family and friends to help fund my trip. The rest was paid 100% by me. If you are concerned about how you will afford the trip, try fundraising. You can use Go Fund Me or sell baked goods to raise the money. I didn’t sell any goods to fund my trip because I didn’t have the time. I was working and finishing up my Bachelor’s, so I decided to bite the bullet and gift myself the opportunity. From my personal research, IVHQ seemed to be one of the most affordable organizations to travel with. There are also church and school organizations that participate in international volunteer trips. If you don’t have the money to spare for IVHQ, you can always seek opportunities at your University and church.

7. Did you feel safe throughout the trip?

Yes. Costa Rica is a very safe country. Did you know they don’t have a military? Since I was traveling alone, safety played a big role in me picking Costa Rica as my destination. Of course, I took extra precautions because there are bad people everywhere. I did not travel with any expensive jewelry, kept my phone put away, and didn’t go anywhere alone. Like I said, we traveled around the city by ourselves and utilized public transportation because it was cheaper than Uber. Not once did I feel unsafe. I always had a friend with me and maintained full awareness of my surroundings. Unfortunately, I can only speak for Costa Rica. Check out the IVHQ Facebook page and ask around. There are volunteers in that group from all over the world and they can give you more insight on the safety of their destination.

8. Did you learn anything important that you’d like to share?

Oh, absolutely! First, I learned that I am 100% meant to be in medicine. Costa Rica was beautiful and traveling was fun, but my favorite part was being in the nursing home and working with patients. I loved spending time with the residents, getting to know them, and being hands on. When the week was over, I didn’t want to come home. I wanted to stay and work more. It really showed me how much I love what I do and how much compassion good quality health care requires. It takes more than being clinically sound to be a good physician or any provider of care. It takes patience, compassion, understanding, and love for your neighbor. This is one of the reasons I think everyone should volunteer abroad in a health care setting. You will know right then and there if you are seeking medicine because you love it or not.

Organic Stew Recipe

Medicine and Health

Okay, let’s be real: eating healthy is hard. It’s hard because we have spent most, if not all, of our lives eating crap. Western culture and the modern world we live in today has normalized a restless lifestyle. We feel bad when we stop to rest. We feel guilty if we are not being productive with our time and God forbid we take a full-hour lunch break. That’s a huge no-no. We must keep pushing, working, drinking caffeine and borrowing energy the same way we borrow money and run up our credit cards to keep-up.

With all of the pressures and responsibilities in the modern world (bills, mortgage, college, deadlines), cooking is not our priority. We grab a protein bar in the morning as we rush our the door for work, we skip lunch because we have a deadline to reach and we buy take-out dinner because cooking takes way too long. Not to mention the sheer thought of cleaning up after. Let’s face it: after a long day of running against the clock, we don’t want to cook.

What we don’t realize is that the take-out food we are buying and the lunch we are skipping is the reason we are tired, depressed, anxious and feel like complete crap half of the time. Food is meant to give your body energy to keep going. The protein bar you think is going to hold you off until lunch isn’t food. It’s processed junk and no matter how busy you are, if you don’t make time to fuel your body with the nutrients it needs, you will never feel better. It doesn’t matter how many deadlifts you do at the gym or how many yoga classes you go to…

Health starts with your diet!

I was just like most people in America. I skipped meals, ate processed junk and convinced myself I was healthy as long as I was going to gym. That mentality is baloney. If you want to try and transition into a healthier lifestyle, try out this great stew recipe that I started out with when I decided to finally stop making excuses and take care of myself. Here’s the best part: it’s Crock Pot friendly. You just throw everything into your Crock-Pot and go about your day. Do your yoga, walk your dog and take a shower because dinner will be ready in no time.

I know eating healthy is intimating because first, you may not know a thing about what BPA, GMO or organic even means. It may feel like you don’t know where to start. Second, everyone talks about how expensive organic foods are. Don’t worry, this recipe is affordable and if you don’t have time to go to Whole Foods or the super market, you can purchase all of the ingredients above on Amazon. If you didn’t know, Amazon has partnered with Whole Foods, so everything you want to buy at Whole Foods is available online. Plus, you get a discount when you do go buy your groceries in store.

These seasonings are optional. You can mix it up if you’d like. These are seasonings my husband and I love to use. You don’t have to buy them at any fancy organic store. Get them wherever you’d like or use what you have at home. Like a true Latina woman, I don’t measure any of these seasonings. As my mother would say, we season with heart, so add the seasonings to taste. I personally use one whole onion and one whole garlic in my soup because I love how they taste. If you can, do purchase an organic onion and garlic. Organic vegetables contain more nutrients than regular ones. You are doing yourself a favor by spending the extra $0.20 on a clean and natural vegetable versus not.

How to prepare:

  • Dice the garlic and onion and cook it over medium heat on a regular stove. Cook until they brown. After, place them inside of the Crock Pot.
  • Drain the organic kidney beans, garbanzo beans, and pinto beans from the can and place them inside with the garlic and onion.
  • Add 2 full cartons of beef bone broth and 1 box of the red lentil penne pasta.
  • Add the organic frozen vegetables and cauliflower.
  • Add seasonings to taste.
    • Salt & Pepper
    • Paprika
    • Ground Cumin
    • Ground Coriander
  • Let the soup cook in the Crock Pot for as long as necessary. Usually, I leave mine on high for about 3 hours, and then reduce it to low. I like my pasta very soft as well as the vegetables, so you may cook your stew for less time than me.
  • When I think it’s done, I add in chopped parsley to taste. If you don’t want to add it to the entire soup batch, you can add it to the individual bowl when you are ready to eat or serve.

That’s it! Seriously, that is actually it.

If you have the seasonings already and only need to purchase the ingredients, you will spend about $25.00. If you need to buy onion and garlic, you may spend about $27.00-$28.00 depending on if you buy organic or not.

There it is. An easy, Crock Pot friendly, and affordable healthy recipe for you to kick-start your diet and lifestyle change. Let me know how it tastes once you try it. I’m super excited to see what you all think.