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June 18, 2013 > Revered Spiritual Leader from India Turns to Washington Hospital for Spine Surgery

Revered Spiritual Leader from India Turns to Washington Hospital for Spine Surgery

Minimally invasive technique allows improved healing, better pain relief

Last year, His Holiness Sri Swami Satchidananda - one of the highest ranking spiritual leaders in India with more than 1 million followers worldwide - learned his doctor would be unable to perform further surgery to treat his very painful, debilitating spinal condition. By the fall, he was bed-ridden, unable to sit or walk for more than a few minutes without considerable pain.

The founder of Integral Yoga and a Yoga master, Swami Satchidananda is widely recognized for his many contributions to world peace. To repair his spinal condition so he could once again sit and walk without pain, he decided to look to the U.S. for treatment. After researching numerous West Coast hospitals, including one well-known academic medical center in the Bay Area, he selected the Taylor McAdam Bell Neuroscience Institute at Washington Hospital.

"At age 89, Swami Satchidananda has some health complications, including diabetes and a kidney transplant requiring him to take medication to suppress his immune system. For these reasons, it was important that any further surgery be minimally invasive, which would substantially increase the likelihood of healing," said neurosurgeon Sandeep Kunwar, M.D. Dr. Kunwar is a co-medical director at the Taylor McAdam Bell Neuroscience Institute and Swami Satchidananda's spine surgeon in the U.S.

Unsuccessful treatment

In 2011 in Mumbai, India, Swami Satchidananda had surgery for a ruptured disc in his lumbar spine. He did not heal well after the surgery and, as a result, developed a large disc herniation, with the spine collapsing in the area of the surgery and the disc bulging outward. This caused him to suffer a great deal of pain. A second operation performed in India last fall provided relief for only a short time, and he was bedbound again.

Further treatment would require two procedures to repair and stabilize the spine and to replace the ineffective support structures that had been implanted during the first surgery. Of the programs he considered, only Washington Hospital was able to perform both parts of the surgery minimally invasively, substantially increasing the likelihood of healing.

"Because of his advanced age and medical problems, it was important that there be robust healing after the procedure so there would be no need for further surgery," explained Dr. Kunwar. "With our expert staff and the advanced technology available at Washington Hospital, we were confident we could achieve an excellent outcome."

Coming to Fremont

In mid-February, Swami Satchidananda arrived in Fremont, accompanied by his personal physician and an entourage of 60 devoted followers. On Feb. 13, Dr. Kunwar performed the two-part procedure. Swami Satchidananda's personal physician was in attendance throughout the surgery, sending regular Tweets to keep followers apprised of the patient's condition.

First, Dr. Kunwar reconstructed two vertebrae in the lumbar spine by working through a 1.5-inch incision in the front of Swami Satchidananda's torso. He also placed a cage-like structure in the affected area of the spine, to provide immediate stabilization.

During the second part of the surgery, Dr. Kunwar worked through two 1-inch incisions in the back to remove scar tissue and the rods that had previously been inserted to support the spine. Loosened over time due to the lack of healing, they were replaced with new rods and screws to fit the unique condition.

"All of this was done without cutting through old scar tissue or muscle," added Dr. Kunwar, "and this made a big difference in the speed and quality of the healing process after surgery."

State-of-the-art surgery

Dr. Kunwar was able to perform these delicate procedures at Washington Hospital using some of the most advanced tools in spinal surgery today. In a computer-guided process called stereotactic navigation, he utilized the high-tech BrainSuite imaging system to navigate the spine very precisely.

"With BrainSuite and the Body Tom portable 32-slice CT scanner, we can create a three-dimensional model of a patient's spine, using images taken during an operation," stated Dr. Kunwar. "Viewing these images, which are displayed in the operating room on touch-sensitive, flat-panel monitors, we can place implants in the spine perfectly without damaging the spinal column. For the patient, this image-guided surgical technology means smaller incisions, faster healing and fewer complications."

Another advantage of minimally invasive surgery is low blood loss. Swami Satchidananda lost less than 6 tablespoons of blood during the entire procedure, avoiding the need for a blood transfusion.

Returning to India

After surgery, Swami Satchidananda did very well, returning to India in just two weeks. Soon after the procedure, he was able to walk for 20 minutes at a time and sit for more than an hour without pain. Because he was so debilitated from his extended time in bed, his strength and stamina were poor. He is currently undergoing physical therapy in India, and Dr. Kunwar anticipates he will soon be able to sit and move around as before, without pain.

"With the tools and techniques we have at Washington Hospital, we are able to help many people recover from serious spinal conditions, often despite other significant medical problems," Dr. Kunwar commented. "It's wonderful that this caliber of spine surgery is available here, not just for well-known individuals, but for our entire community."

Lean more

To learn more about the Minimally Invasive Spine Program of the Taylor McAdam Bell Neuroscience Institute at Washington Hospital, go to

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