Spine surgeons are few and far between on the Western Slope -- but that's not a problem for residents of the Yampa Valley any more.
Dr. Henry Fabian arrived in Steamboat Springs on Aug. 16 to direct the brand new Spine Center of Steamboat Springs. The transplant from the Ohio Spine Institute will coordinate a state-of-the-art, comprehensive approach to back and neck care with a focus on personal attention and a full range of rehabilitation services at the Yampa Valley Medical Center.
"From a technical standpoint, it's comparable to any big academic center. You're not being shortchanged by staying here versus going to Denver," Fabian said. "The emphasis is going to be on conservative care."
The Spine Center of Steamboat Springs will offer imaging services, pain management, spine surgery and pre- and post-operative care services.
"It obviously brings a new element that goes beyond the scope of anything we had before," Yampa Valley Medical Center public relations representative Christine McKelvie said. "Back surgery is definitely a sub-specialty. It's going to be great for the valley."
Some of the most common back and neck pain stems from degenerative discs, spurs and herniated discs that crush the sensitive sciatica nerve, Fabian said. He said surgery is one small piece of the puzzle, because 85 percent of patients with back or neck pains don't need such an invasive procedure. Fabian will be working closely with other health care professionals for a coordinated approach to pain management, physical therapy and occupational medical services.
"The physical therapy staff is very excited," McKelvie said. She emphasized that the center's therapy program is bolstered by occupational therapists, opportunities for short therapeutic stays at the Doak Walker Care Center and a certified ergonomics evaluation specialist to help employers re-integrate an employee back into his or her job after back surgery.
Fabian said he ultimately expects the spine center to receive referrals and have patients who will come directly to the center with the same kind of certainty they visit an orthopaedist when they know they've torn something inside their knee.
Regardless, Fabian recommended that patients with back or neck pain start with a visit to their primary-care physician.
When surgery is the best answer, Fabian is equipped with the most up-to-date expertise. Currently the focus is on minimally invasive spine surgery, which is similar to arthroscopy that is done on knees or shoulders, he said. There have also been "huge leaps and bounds" in the development of artificial discs which are just getting approval from the Food and Drug Administration, he said.
The comprehensive, team approach to spine care that Fabian will direct at the Spine Center of Steamboat Springs is modeled on the Ohio Spine Institute, from where he recently relocated.
A Cleveland native, Fabian earned an undergraduate degree in electrical engineering from Case Western Reserve. While he was working on his master's degree in electrical engineering at Ohio State University, he worked for a company that developed and made spine implants. It peaked his interest so much that he changed course to earn his M.D. from the Medical College of Ohio and did spine fellowships in both Denver and Hanover, Germany.
Now Fabian is an associate in practice with Orthopaedics of Steamboat Springs and director of the new spine institute. As an avid skier who learned to ski on "Eastern blue ice," Fabian said he and his family always wanted to live in a mountain town. He emphasized how important personal relationships and a sense of community are to his practice.
"I always wanted to practice medicine on a personal level," Fabian said. "We have an opportunity to foster a traditional relationship between a doctor and a patient."