This doctor has your back

TMH surgeon honored for spine treatment breakthrough


Out of thousands of entries, a Steamboat Springs doctor and some of his former fellow students came away with one of the best ideas for a business start-up plan --recognition that landed him on the cover of November's issue of Fortune Small Business Magazine and a $50,000 first-place prize.

Dr. Henry Fabian, 42, who divides his time between Yampa Valley Medical Center and The Memorial Hospital, is a new kid in town with ambitious plans to transform the future of spinal surgeries.

Although his award-winning idea for an implant should help ease aching spines by 2006, the doctor already performs spinal surgeries that are cutting patients' recovery times.

"The move is to do spinal surgery with smaller and smaller incisions," said Fabian, who appeared at TMH on Wednesday for a press conference. "Fusions used to take three or four days for people to recover. Now people can be out in one day. The big issue is, it's cutting down on pain."

Fabian's idea came after the doctor grew tired of performing surgery on patients who required an implant to fuse together two vertebrae through a tiny tube. He likened the tricky procedure -- which in the event of a mistake has the potential to paralyze a patient from the waist down -- to "fitting a ship model into a bottle."

Fabian successfully performed the procedure at his private practice in Cleveland, but he questioned whether there were a better way to do it.

In 2002, Fabian enrolled in Ohio State's Fisher College of Business to earn his MBA. There he teamed up with four students to create a business plan for Vertebration. The group is creating a spinal implant that can be inserted into the body at a fraction of its full size and expand after it is inside the body.

Fabian said the implant should be available after it is patented and receives approval from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, which likely will take a few years.

The doctor conducts spinal surgeries in Steamboat, but plans to perform the operations in Craig by the beginning of the year. TMH board members recently approved about $40,000 in equipment for the doctor to use locally. Fabian said he's looking forward to an increase in space for his practice that a new hospital in Craig will provide.

"It's most important to emphasize that this is offering health care to the community that wasn't here before," Fabian said.

Fabian attributes his success with Vertebration to a budding interest in health-care options that offer less stress to patients.

Smaller incisions and safer back surgery is an attractive option for patients, he said.

Indeed, as soon as Fabian appeared on the magazine cover with his invention, he almost immediately received calls from prospective patients across the country wanting to have the surgery.

"Within three days, I was inundated with calls," he said. "I was a little overwhelmed. It was more than I bargained for."

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