Dr. J Alex Thomas, a Pioneer in Single Position Spinal Surgery

Dr. J Alex Thomas, a Pioneer in Single Position Spinal Surgery

Spinal fusion surgery can be life-changing but it is also incredibly delicate work on a sensitive, central organ. For Dr. Thomas, these challenges presented an opportunity for innovation: to reduce OR time, decrease risks, and improve patient outcomes. And what he discovered has changed spinal surgery around the world. 

Dr. Thomas is an expert in minimally invasive spinal surgery, having received his Doctor of Medicine from Georgetown University and completed his neurosurgical residency at Georgetown University Hospital in Washington, DC. 

Dr. Thomas likes to say that minimally invasive surgery (MIS) is the only type of spinal surgery you should ever have. It can be faster, safer, and require less recovery than traditional methods because of reduced impact to muscles and soft tissues. With MIS, patients often benefit from reduced risks of complications: muscle damage, infection, and postoperative pain. 

However, even within the specialized field of minimally invasive spinal surgery, Dr. Thomas believed that there was room for improvement. He questioned the lengthy OR times for spinal fusion surgeries, submitting patients unnecessarily to hours of anesthesia. And he wasn’t a fan of the original surgical method that required “flipping” the patient multiple times in the procedure to insert equipment. 

What if the oxygen tube was inadvertently pulled out from a sleeping patient? Or their IV? 

Dr. Thomas believed the solution was lateral single-position surgery, in which spinal fusion is performed on the front and back of the spine while the patient remains lying on their side. No more flipping. No more hours in the OR: lateral single-position surgery cut spinal fusion surgery down to 90 minutes or less. 

And shorter OR times are not only good news for surgeons. By dramatically reducing the time that a patient spends under anesthesia, Dr. Thomas found that his method led to decreased patient risks and better outcomes. 

But like all revolutionaries, when Dr. Thomas and his colleagues first shared their discoveries at conferences and publications for the spinal MIS community six years ago, they were met with some (read: a lot of) resistance. But, thankfully, Dr. Thomas isn’t one to give up so easily. From his home base, Atlantic Brain and Spine, in Wilmington, NC Dr. Thomas continued to pursue groundbreaking results for his patients using lateral single-position surgery for spinal fusion. And slowly, but surely, the rest of the world caught on. 

Most recently, Dr. Thomas’s now world-renowned efforts were published in a special issue of the European Spine Journal: Single Position Spine Surgery. Not only was he invited to write the introduction for the entire issue, but he also authored seven articles on the subject to share his expertise with the wider medical community. Dr. Thomas’s articles cover everything from laying out the conceptual framework for the surgery to technical considerations and individualized patient needs. 

The rest of the articles in the series reflect the global success of Dr. Thomas’s ground-breaking surgical method–as researchers and surgeons around the world have introduced lateral single position spinal surgery into their practice and analyzed the intricacies of the positive results. 

Despite his renown in the medical community, Dr. Thomas is known by his patients for successful surgeries and his down-to-earth bedside manner. Sure he can write seven articles about lateral single-position spinal surgery in “medicalese.” But he can also explain the whole thing in layman’s terms, expertly guiding patients through the decision-making process–the first steps towards an improved quality of life.