Kevin saving lives sooner thanks to keyhole back op

Minimally invasive slipped disc repair option for quicker recovery

Thursday, February 15 2024

A young paramedic who suffered a herniated or ‘slipped’ intervertebral disc is back to active duty and saving lives again after becoming the first person to undergo a minimally invasive endoscopic discectomy at Netcare Pinehaven Hospital recently. 

“A slipped, herniated or bulging disc describes the same condition, where the fibrocartilage spacers between a person’s spinal vertebrae deteriorate and begin pressing on the nerves – it can be debilitating,” says Dr Darsi Boungou-Poati, a neurosurgeon specialising in endoscopic techniques.

The back pain that had been gnawing at Kevin Eaton for the past two years suddenly came to an excruciating crescendo as he was preparing to leave for work one day. The 28-year-old Netcare 911 intermediate life support medic and father of a busy young toddler was left barely able to walk.

“My fiancé drove me to the emergency department at Netcare Pinehaven Hospital where I was given some pain relief, and an x-ray was done with a referral for an MRI scan the following day when it was discovered that I had an L4-L5-S1 vertebrae disc herniation pressing on the nerves going to my legs and my spinal cord. It was a frightening diagnosis, and I was grateful to have my fiancé with me for emotional support,” Kevin recalls. 





“A lot of medics get back pain, as it is physically demanding work. Especially when I was younger, I didn’t feel the need to ask colleagues to help me move a patient, as I should have, when I felt I could do it alone. Unfortunately, over ten years as a paramedic, this took a toll on my back.

“I was worried about how this might affect my vocation for saving lives, my livelihood, and my ability to care for my young daughter. When discussing the options with Dr Boungou-Poati, I told him that I needed to get back on my feet quickly and that whatever option we decided should be a sustainable solution.”

“Kevin’s concerns about having surgery were understandable because the traditional approach to the repair procedure would mean a week in the hospital, at least six weeks off work and a very gradual return to normal activities that impact the person’s productivity for a long time,” Dr Boungou-Poati says. 

 “The endoscopic discectomy is much less invasive and minimizes many of the usual risks associated with open surgery because there is no need to cut through muscle or expose a large surgical site. The time in theatre is greatly reduced, and the operation can even be performed under local anaesthetic if the patient is comfortable with the sounds of the instruments while we are working,” he says. 

“A small puncture of 1.5cm is made in the skin, and an endoscope with a light and a tiny camera are carefully inserted to allow us to see exactly where the damaged intervertebral disc is pressing on the nerves. I remove only the pieces causing the pain, so most of the disc remains to fulfil its crucial spacing and shock absorbing function.  

“Often, patients can be discharged home on the day of the procedure without the need to be admitted overnight, such is the safety of this keyhole approach, and a person can often resume light duties just a week later with much less postoperative pain than the traditional lumbar discectomy,” Dr Boungou-Poati says. 

“The endoscopic discectomy is a game changing option for those who require surgery and want to get back to life soon.”

Kevin says when he awoke from the surgery, he had to lie still for six hours but was then able to get up and walk around. He was discharged soon after with instructions to wear a soft back brace for three weeks.

“The physiotherapist showed me some home stretches to help with the back muscles, and I was cleared for duty again on 1 December. I spent a few weeks getting back into the swing of things at the Netcare 911 Roodepoort base, and now I am back on active duty, where I belong, saving lives,” Kevin says. 

“My back pain had made me worry that I was reaching my shelf-life as a medic, and this procedure, no matter how small it may sound, meant the world to me – both as a father to a young child and in my vocation of being a medic, which I’ve invested more than ten years of my life in and I couldn’t imagine doing anything else.”

Kevin is grateful for his new lease on life and everyone who supported him, including his Netcare 911 management and colleagues. 

“I cannot thank Dr Boungou-Poati enough for the second chance he gave me and the wake-up call to take better care of my back. I also want to thank my physiotherapist and the amazing team who looked after me at Netcare Pinehaven Hospital. A big thank you to my fiancé for her love and caring throughout – we are now ready to carry on with our lives together,” Kevin concludes.


Notes to editor 
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Issued by:    MNA on behalf of Netcare Pinehaven Hospital
For media enquiries contact:    Martina Nicholson, Meggan Saville, or Estene Lotriet-Vorster
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