Awake spinal anesthesia facilitates spine surgery in poor surgical candidates: A case series.



Annually, hundreds of thousands of patients undergo surgery for degenerative spine disease (DSD). This represents only a fraction of patients that present for surgical consideration. Procedures are often avoided due to comorbidities that make patients poor candidates for general anesthesia (GA) and its associated risks. With increasing interest in awake surgery under spinal anesthesia (SA), the authors have observed that SA may facilitate spine surgery in patients with relative contraindications to GA. With this in mind, the authors set out to summarize the outcomes of a series of highly comorbid patients who received surgery under SA.


Case logs of a single surgeon were reviewed, and patients undergoing spine surgery under SA were identified. Within this group, patients were identified with relative contraindications to GA, such as advanced age and medical comorbidities. For these patients, for whom surgery was facilitated by SA, the medical records were consulted to report demographic information and patient outcomes.


Ten highly comorbid patients were identified who received lumbar spine surgery for DSD under SA. Comorbidities included octogenarian status, obesity, and chronic health conditions such as heart disease. The cohort had a mean age of 75.5 and a mean American Society of Anesthesiologists Physical Status (ASA-PS) score of 3.1. The patients were predicted to have a 2.74-fold increase of serious complications compared to the average patient. There were no adverse events.


For patients with symptomatic, refractory DSD and relative contraindications to GA, SA may facilitate safe surgical intervention with excellent outcomes.





Published Version (Please cite this version)


Publication Info

Sykes, David AW, Troy Q Tabarestani, David S Salven, Nauman S Chaudhry, Timothy Y Wang, Oren N Gottfried, Christopher I Shaffrey, Nicole R Guinn, et al. (2023). Awake spinal anesthesia facilitates spine surgery in poor surgical candidates: A case series. Neuro-Chirurgie, 69(3). p. 101444. 10.1016/j.neuchi.2023.101444 Retrieved from

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Oren N Gottfried

Professor of Neurosurgery

I specialize in the surgical management of all complex cervical, thoracic, lumbar, or sacral spinal diseases by using minimally invasive as well as standard approaches for arthritis or degenerative disease, deformity, tumors, and trauma. I have a special interest in the treatment of thoracolumbar deformities, occipital-cervical problems, and in helping patients with complex spinal issues from previously unsuccessful surgery or recurrent disease.I listen to my patients to understand their symptoms and experiences so I can provide them with the information and education they need to manage their disease. I make sure my patients understand their treatment options, and what will work best for their individual condition. I treat all my patients with care and concern – just as I would treat my family. I am available to address my patients' concerns before and after surgery.  I aim to improve surgical outcomes for my patients and care of all spine patients with active research evaluating clinical and radiological results after spine surgery with multiple prospective databases. I am particularly interested in prevention of spinal deformity, infections, complications, and recurrent spinal disease. Also, I study whether patient specific variables including pelvic/sacral anatomy and sagittal spinal balance predict complications from spine surgery.


Christopher Ignatius Shaffrey

Professor of Orthopaedic Surgery

I have more than 25 years of experience treating patients of all ages with spinal disorders. I have had an interest in the management of spinal disorders since starting my medical education. I performed residencies in both orthopaedic surgery and neurosurgery to gain a comprehensive understanding of the entire range of spinal disorders. My goal has been to find innovative ways to manage the range of spinal conditions, straightforward to complex. I have a focus on managing patients with complex spinal disorders. My patient evaluation and management philosophy is to provide engaged, compassionate care that focuses on providing the simplest and least aggressive treatment option for a particular condition. In many cases, non-operative treatment options exist to improve a patient’s symptoms. I have been actively engaged in clinical research to find the best ways to manage spinal disorders in order to achieve better results with fewer complications.


Nicole Renee Guinn

Associate Professor of Anesthesiology

Originally from Anchorage, Alaska, Dr. Guinn attended Mount Sinai School of Medicine in New York, NY, where she graduated with AOA honors.  She then completed her anesthesiology residency and fellowship in cardiothoracic anesthesia at Duke University Medical Center, staying on as faculty after completing her training. Dr. Guinn served as the Medical Director of the Center for Blood Conservation at Duke University Medical Center from 2013-2022, working with patients who decline transfusion to receive safe care and improved outcomes, and developing an institutional Preoperative Anemia Clinic to diagnose and treat anemia in operative patients at risk for transfusion. She is known nationally for her expertise in management of patients “When Blood is Not an Option” and for preoperative optimization of anemia in surgical patients and is the current Chair for the ASA Committee on Patient Blood Management.  Dr. Guinn is also involved with the American Board of Anesthesiology, serving as an OSCE Committee member and APPLIED examiner for board certification in the anesthesiology. She is the current Interim Division Chief of neuro-anesthesiology, otolaryngology and offsite anesthesia at Duke University. 


Jeffrey Charles Gadsden

Professor of Anesthesiology

As Chief of the division of Orthopedic, Plastic and Regional Anesthesiology, my research interests lie in the efficacy of peripheral nerve blockade for acute postoperative pain control, research into educational methods for teaching regional anesthesia procedures, and the safe provision of regional anesthesia in the trauma setting.


Chakib Ayoub

Professor of Anesthesiology

William Michael Bullock

Assistant Professor of Anesthesiology

Miles Berger

Associate Professor of Anesthesiology

My research team focuses on 3 areas:

1) We are interested in the mechanisms of postoperative neurocognitive disorders such as delirium, and the relationship between these disorders and Alzheimer's Disease and Related Dementias (ADRD). Towards these ends, we use a combination of methods including pre and postoperative CSF and blood sampling, functional neuroimaging, EEG recordings, rigorous biochemical assays, and cognitive testing and delirium screening. In the long run, this work has the potential to help us improve long term neurocognitive outcomes for the more than 20 million Americans over age 60 who undergo anesthesia and surgery each year.

2) We are interested in the idea that altered anesthetic-induced brain EEG waveforms can serve as indicators of specific types of preclinical/prodromal neurodegenerative disease pathology, specific cognitive domain deficits, and postoperative delirium risk. We are studying this topic in the ALADDIN study, a 250 patient prospective cohort study in older surgical patients at Duke. Many people have viewed anesthesia and surgery as a "stress test" for the aging brain; we hope that this work will help us learn how to develop a real-time EEG readout of this "perioperative stress test" for the aging brain, just as ECG analysis can provide a real-time readout of cardiac treadmill stress tests. 

3) We are interested in how the APOE4 allele damages brain circuitry throughout the adult lifespan, and how this contributes to increased risk of late onset Alzheimer's disease as well as worse outcomes following other acute brain disorders such as stroke and traumatic brain injury (TBI). In particular, we are investigating the hypothesis that the APOE4 allele leads to increased CNS complement activation throughout adult life, which then contributes to increased synaptic phagocytosis and long term neurocognitive decline. We are also studying whether acutely modulating APOE signaling in older surgical patients with the APOE mimetic peptide CN-105 is sufficient to block postoperative CSF neuroinflammation and complement activation. 

Our work is transdisciplinary, and thus our team includes individuals with diverse scientific and clinical backgrounds, ranging from neuropsychology and neuroimaging to proteomics, flow cytometry and behavioral neuroscience in animal models. What unites us is the desire to better understand mechanisms of age-dependent brain dysfunction, both in the perioperative setting and in APOE4 carriers. 


Muhammad Abd-El-Barr

Associate Professor of Neurosurgery

As a Neurosurgeon with fellowship training in Spine Surgery, I have dedicated my professional life to treating patients with spine disorders. These include spinal stenosis, spondylolisthesis, scoliosis, herniated discs and spine tumors. I incorporate minimally-invasive spine (MIS) techniques whenever appropriate to minimize pain and length of stay, yet not compromise on achieving the goals of surgery, which is ultimately to get you back to the quality of life you once enjoyed. I was drawn to medicine and neurosurgery for the unique ability to incorporate the latest in technology and neuroscience to making patients better. I will treat you and your loved ones with the same kind of care I would want my loved ones to be treated with. In addition to my clinical practice, I will be working with Duke Bioengineers and Neurobiologists on important basic and translational questions surrounding spinal cord injuries (SCI), which we hope to bring to clinical relevance.

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