Member Spotlight: The Spine Institute of Idaho - The Backbone of Treasure Valley

Clint Kelly

Close-knit Practice Offers Full Gamut of Simple and Complex Spine and Neck Care

In Idaho’s Treasure Valley region, midway between the state’s two largest cities of Boise and Meridian, a growing number of spinal pain sufferers are placing their trust in the medical team at The Spine Institute of Idaho in Meridian, Idaho. A vast number have returned to work and active play. Elderly patients and those with major spinal problems have regained significant functionality.

Samuel Jorgenson, M.D., acting medical director, sees the full range of issues, both simple and complex, from 60 to 80 patients each week. He performs about 350 spinal surgeries a year—between five and 10 per week—and says he dedicated his life to this branch of medicine “because the spine is so complex and all-encompassing.”

“The field is so technical, and the skill set so specialized, that it would be hard to do other medical procedures not associated with the spine," he says.

He sees a broad range of ailments that can impact the quality of life—herniated discs, osteoarthritis, spinal fractures, sciatica, cervical fractures, and more.

Jorgenson and his team of four orthopedic spine surgeons, two physiatrists, two nurse practitioners, three physician assistants, a physical therapist, and office medical assistants serve patients from across a broad geographical area that, besides Idaho, includes parts of Nevada, Oregon, and Washington.

Among the Institute’s surgical specialties are cervical (neck) surgery, minimally invasive surgery, the correction of previous failed back/neck surgery, and reconstructive spine surgery. “Our patients come to us from farm communities and cosmopolitan cities,” says Jorgenson. “Our office is close-knit and highly collaborative when it comes to our patients and their problems.” He also enjoys a strong relationship with St. Luke’s Regional Medical Center, St. Alphonsus Regional Medical Center, West Valley Medical Center, and Boise VA Medical Center, area hospitals where he performs most of his surgeries.

Following nine years of practicing spine surgery at the University of Southern California Medical Center and affiliated hospitals in Los Angeles, California, Jorgenson joined The Spine Institute of Idaho in 2002. The decision to move there was in part to raise a family in a healthy, outdoor lifestyle.

He, his wife of 26 years, and their three children have thrived in Idaho, where they have vacationed at Sun Valley, hiked the Boise foothills, and kept exercise at the forefront of their personal health focus. Their youngest child, a son, pursues competitive cycling; their middle child, also a son, is at Columbia University in New York, poised for a career in computer science; and the oldest, a daughter, is a graduate of Colorado College and considering medical school.

In his medical practice, the issues Jorgenson most often sees are tied to aging and degeneration in the spinal region. But he quickly discovered the depth of passion a number of his patients had for outdoor recreation. It was satisfying to help those more athletic and adventurous patients recover from back injuries and return to the slopes.

“Though I’ve never taken up hunting, some of my patients live for hunting season, and are just miserable if an injury prevents them from getting out there,” Jorgenson says. He takes great satisfaction in repairing spinal injuries that keep his patients down, and in providing therapies to restore their back strength and range of motion so they can again do the things they love most.

For Jorgenson, one of life’s biggest payoffs is in the personal satisfaction of caring for people in crisis, and focusing on spinal surgery is his way of doing so. “Anyone with a spine problem can come to the Institute and find options to help them,” he says. “We offer a full range of treatments, and will refer for the most appropriate means of providing for them."

Part of Jorgenson’s job is to educate patients who have no clinical knowledge. They frequently come to his office with inaccurate assumptions. "A patient might say, 'Oh, my uncle had back surgery and is doing great,’ and think that one form of treatment fits all," he says. "You’d be surprised at the number of people we talk out of surgery for their own benefit.”

Jorgenson is ever mindful of the dangers of spinal surgery. Cardiac function can be compromised when a patient is asleep for long periods. Pneumonia and blood clots are other potential risks, as are nerve injuries, fractures, and removing too much bone or tissue, which can result in destabilized bone structure where stabilization was intended. Consequently, the Institute’s professional standards require Jorgenson and his team to not only spend time and energy training for surgery, but also to optimize the overall health of their patients to get them ready for surgery—and to teach them how to minimize the chances of the problem ever happening again through exercise and the maintenance of a healthy lifestyle routine.

Another discovery some patients make in seeking help from the Institute is that smoking is bad for your back. Because it diminishes nutrition and hydration to the spinal discs, smoking is a risk factor for degenerative disc disease. The lack of nutrition and hydration to the disc causes the disc space to collapse, creating a bone-on-bone situation and abnormal wear on the joints.

What brings joy to Jorgenson is helping people through a difficult time to be able to pursue the life they want to live, to return to work, and to enjoy their families again. He sees them through the struggle and is there for them in the healing process. “It’s challenging to keep up on changing technology, to constantly educate yourself and stay current,” says Jorgenson, who has performed minimally invasive surgeries as well as 10- to 12-hour surgical marathons. His skills include microscopic surgeries and major reconstructive surgery for scoliosis.

“It’s rare to have one office provide the full spectrum of operative and non-operative treatments,” he adds. And not only that, but the Institute’s board-certified and fellowship-trained physicians and orthopedic spine surgeons have developed innovative techniques now standard in spinal medicine. “We have designed and tested implants commonly used in spinal surgery today,” he notes. These include a cervical plate for giving increased stability to the spine following surgery, which helps provide an earlier return to normal function.

The comprehensive array of spine treatments offered, and the skilled staff to employ them, are what make the Institute such a valuable asset to the community. It’s clear all of its team members believe in making a difference in people’s lives.

From patient care to office operations, The Spine Institute of Idaho provides for the community and for its own. You could say they have the backbone to run a health care practice the way it ought to be run.