Doctor wins prize for business plan

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Dr. Henry Fabian of Steamboat Springs knows first-hand the anxiety that comes with fusing a patient's vertebrae through a tiny incision. The concentration required to delicately insert an implant into a patient's spinal column often leaves him drained.

The difference between Fabian and many orthopedic surgeons is that he went back to school to find a better way. Only Fabian didn't go back to medical school, he went to business school.

Now, he and his partners in a start-up company called Vertebration have gained national attention for their business plan. Their company intends to bring to market a collapsible titanium-alloy spinal implant that holds the promise of greatly simplifying lumbar fusions.

"The move is to do spinal surgery with smaller and smaller incisions," Fabian said. "Fusions used to take three or four days for people to recover. Now people can be out in one day. The big issue is, it's cutting down on pain."

The trickiest aspect to the small-incision approach to lumbar fusions is inserting the implant through a tube that is less than one inch in diameter.

Fortune Small Business magazine recently chose Vertebration from among thousands of applicants for the top prize in its student start-up contest. The prize of $50,000, along with an $89,000 prize from Ohio State University, will go a long way toward their goal of attracting venture capital and bringing their new implant, the Columna, to market.

Fabian, who practices medicine at Yampa Valley Medical Center with Orthopaedics of Steamboat Springs, previously had a practice in Cleveland. He also is preparing to perform surgeries at The Memorial Hospital in Craig.

While in Cleveland, Fabian enrolled at Ohio State's Fisher College of Business to pursue his MBA and his idea for a product that would give doctors better results with the small incision approach to lumbar. He and fellow students Rick Karr, Lisa Paley and Jason Smith have developed the plan for Columna and signed a deal with an orthopedic implant company called EBI Biomet. They must attract almost $3 million in capital for research and development, according to a recent article in Fortune Small Business.

If Fabian and his patients can accomplish the same level of success in the boardroom that he already has experienced in the operating theater, millions of baby boomers will be able to rid themselves of their aching backs with much shorter recovery times.

Craig Daily Press reporter Amy Hatten contributed to this article.

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