The neurosurgical spine team performed a reconstruction of the lower cervical spine of this patient, who had a traumatic fracture.

As the oldest neurosurgery spine division in the country, Washington University Physicians at Barnes-Jewish Hospital is leading the nation in all aspects of back and neck treatment. And the group now offers even more comprehensive care, through the addition of a spine neurosurgeon who completed an orthopedic deformity fellowship.

Local residents to patients throughout the region seek the group’s expertise, from diagnosis to treatment of straightforward spinal disorders, such as herniated discs and neck and back pain, to complicated conditions related to spinal trauma, tumors and deformity. In the past year, the group has performed about 725 surgeries and helped 5,000 patients during consultation and follow-up visits. Even fellow physicians trust the group’s care, notes Dr. Neill Wright, the Herbert Lourie professor of neurological surgery. “It’s amazing the number of patients who are doctors in the community that come here and bring their family members.”

Each of the group's four neurosurgeons handle a general spine practice, as well as focus on a subspecialty. Wright specializes in cervical spine surgery, while Dr. Ian Dorward focuses on complex spinal deformity, Dr. Wilson Zachary Ray has a special interest in spinal cord injury and paralysis, and Dr. Paul Santiago concentrates on spinal oncology. In addition, Dr. Robert Grubb sees a range of new and returning patients. “We try to be a one-stop shop for patients, offering conservative treatment to surgery, from the top of the neck down to the bottom of the spine,” Wright says.

And the nationally renowned spine division is making significant strides in spinal surgery, through creating new techniques and using emerging technologies. Wright developed translaminar fixation, a surgical technique for trauma in the back of the neck that is now a standard of care worldwide. Dorward is working with new ways to reshape the spine. Ray is performing groundbreaking advancements following spinal cord injury that involve nerve transfers for returning mobility to paralyzed patients. And Santiago is utilizing stereotactic radiosurgery—a technique that uses radiation like a scalpel to treat tumors.

While the group excels at complex care, Wright also emphasizes the physicians’ experience with everyday spine issues. “We all treat the complicated and unusual; but two-thirds of the time, we are handling the routine. We feel we offer just as much expertise in routine problems.”

The neurosurgical spine team is part of a comprehensive surgical spine service at Washington University Medical Center that collaborates with orthopedic spine surgeons at Barnes-Jewish Hospital’s main and West County campuses and pediatric neurosurgeons at St. Louis Children’s Hospital to provide the most effective continuum of care for patients. “We have a tremendous, diverse group of faculty,” Wright says. “So, regardless of the patient’s problem, we make sure their care is world-class.”

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