April 21 - A new spinal implant developed in Israel, has radically improved the life of at least one patient who, four years ago, believed he would spend his twilight years in constant pain. Seventy-nine-year-old Moshav farmer Yehuda Schwartz suffered from a debilitating back condition common among senior citizens but says, since receiving the implant, he's been given a new lease on life. Jim Drury went to meet him.
Four years ago 79 year old Israeli farmer Yehuda Schwartz was crippled by spinal stenosis, a form of arthritis associated with ageing. Now he says he feels as good as new, thanks to a pioneering spinal implant which its designers hope will spark a revolution in lower back treatment. Before his operation Schwartz believed his twilight years would be spent in constant pain. SOUNDBITE (English) YEHUDA SCHWARTZ, MOSHAV FARMER, SAYING: "Not only is there pain, which is constant, but your whole psyche is affected." When he heard that local company, Premia Spine was looking for volunteers to test their new implant system, Schwartz didn't hesitate. SOUNDBITE (English) YEHUDA SCHWARTZ, MOSHAV FARMER, SAYING: "The operation was on a Thursday, Sunday I said I'd walk up the stairs, Monday I was released. By the end of the week I was completely normal." The implant is called TOPS - for Total Posterior Arthroplasty. It's designed to replace those parts of the spine that are causing the pain. It consists of two titanium plates surrounding a central polyurethane unit that moves, allowing motion in all directions and is fixed to the spine with screws. Premia Spine CEO Ron Sacher says TOPS offers a revolutionary alternative in back pain treatment. SOUNDBITE (English) RON SACHER, CEO OF PREMIA SPINE, SAYING: "The surgeon has decompressed the spine during surgery in order to remove the bony elements that are pressing on the nerves, so now with the TOPS system we're recreating the normal function of the spine with an artificial joint, much like a knee replacement or a hip replacement. We've been able to recreate the normal function of the lumber spine in this particular device, and you can see the device basically moves, so instead of fusing the two vertebral bodies or rigidly fixing them we're recreating the normal function of the lower spine with this particular device." Using metal rods conventional spinal fusion eliminates one of the spine's three key motion segments, making the other two segments work harder. Twenty five percent of patients require more surgery within two years. By contrast, Sacher says the TOPS re-operative rate is just five percent and while the procedure is more expensive than fusion surgery, Sacher believes healthcare systems will see the value in providing coverage. SOUNDBITE (English) RON SACHER, CEO OF PREMIA SPINE, SAYING: "We believe that because of the lower re-operative rates and the better outcomes, in the long term this is a much better solution for the healthcare system than traditional fusion and we hope that in spines we will see the same change that's taken place, namely a move from fusion to hip replacement and knee replacement also taking place in the lumber arena as well." TOPS is currently available in six European countries and is expected to be released in Asia by the end of the year. Since his operation Yehuda Schwartz has cleared an acre of scrubland by hand and set up a thriving olive orchard. UPSOT: SCHWARTZ SAYING: "Listen, what's taking you so long? I got a lot of work to do here. You're holding me up." Now pain free, Schwartz has plans...and at nearly 80 years of age, he's moving at full speed.