A LEADER IN COMPLEX SPINE SURGERY DISCUSSES THE MANY WAYS SIUH’S DIVISION OF NEUROSURGERY IS PROVIDING LEADING-EDGE INNOVATION AND LIFE-CHANGING CARE OFTENTIMES FOR PATIENTS WHO HAVE PREVIOUSLY LOST ALL HOPE
BY AMANDA McCOY • PHOTOS BY AMESSE PHOTOGRAPHY
Jonathan Rasouli, MD, a fellowship trained neurosurgeon with a special interest in adult spinal deformity and scoliosis, often sees cases that are, as the doctor described, the “most complex of complex.” While Staten Island University Hospital’s Department of Neurosurgery does treat routine spinal conditions such as herniated discs or stenosis, Dr. Rasouli explained that many patients who walk into his office often suffer from severe pathologies, ranging from adult scoliosis and spinal deformities to tumors and prior failed spine surgeries. In many cases, these patients have been told by outside physicians that there isn’t a viable treatment plan for their condition.
“My practice involves everything from minimally invasive spinal surgery, where we can accomplish decompressions and spinal fusions through small incisions, to the total opposite, where we essentially recreate and reconstruct somebody’s spine,” said Dr. Rasouli, who completed a fellowship in complex and reconstructive spinal surgery at the Cleveland Clinic in Ohio before joining SIUH in October 2021. “These are often patients that have been told many times that there isn’t anything anyone can do for them; that it’s too complicated. Our goal is to bring patients with severe spinal deformities back to an alignment that is harmonious for their bodies.”
Aided by the latest innovations in computer navigation, Dr. Rasouli and the faculty at SIUH’s Division of Neurosurgery harbor the skills and expertise to provide leading edge surgical and nonsurgical treatments for a vast range of brain and spine disorders, many that require highly specialized care. Scoliosis, for example, affects an estimated six to nine million Americans (per data from the American Association for Neurological Surgeons), with a primary age of onset from ten to 15 years old. For adult scoliosis patients that do require surgery, it’s a major and often delicate procedure.
“The main difference in the pediatric population is incredible flexibility of their spines,” explained the doctor. “It’s much easier to fix scoliosis or deformities in children than adults. Adult spines are more rigid; they usually have significant arthritis. My job is to restore the patient’s spine to its original state and alignment through surgery, once all non-surgical options have been exhausted. In some cases, we do a controlled fracture of the spine, such as an osteotomy. As you can imagine, it’s a big surgery with a significant recovery afterwards. I find these are patients often told that there’s nothing anyone can do for them, and after our surgery and treatment plan, these can be the happiest patients.”
Dr. Rasouli recalled one case in particular: a Staten Island resident in her early 60s suffering from severe osteoporosis of the spine and body. She sought Dr. Rasouli’s care after undergoing several surgeries throughout the city, and had been told by multiple doctors that any future surgery would be too dangerous.
“One of the consequences of untreated osteoporosis is spine deformity,” he continued. “This patient was unfortunately bed and chair bound and in constant pain. She was only 62 years old but told me she felt nearly 100. She had been given many different opinions before she came to us; we discussed her case in our multidisciplinary spine conference and decided on her treatment. It was a surgery that spanned two days; we fused the lower part of her thoracic spine to her pelvis with an osteotomy to improve her alignment. She was in the hospital for a short period of time, underwent a short rehab course, and today she’s doing fantastic and living without pain. I saw her in our clinic the other day and she actually drove herself.”
Dr. Rasouli’s ongoing goal is to establish the hospital as the first and primary resource for Staten Island residents. SIUH’s community focused ethos and world class capabilities is what initially drew the Bergen County, New Jersey, native to the hospital.
“The main thing that appealed to me about SIUH was, amongst the outstanding quality of care, stature, and status of the Northwell system, it’s still a family hospital,” he said. “Almost everybody that works here lives on the Island. It’s a community within a community. The people and employees of SIUH work hand in hand to make it a better place. Everybody wants to see the hospital succeed; the growth potential here is truly unlimited. My goal is for Staten Island residents to know they can come to us first and receive world-class care.”
An additional area of Dr. Rasouli’s practice and one the doctor described as particularly rewarding is treating patients who are experiencing complications or a “failed” result following a prior spinal surgery.
“It’s not uncommon for patients who undergo spinal surgery, and spinal fusions in particular, to experience residual pain,” he said. “Many of them give up hope. What we offer them is a second opinion and a second chance, and many times we are able to address and fix the issue.”
A self-admitted “techy,” Dr. Rasouli noted the ongoing advancements in robotics and computer technology will continue to shape the future of neurosurgery, making procedures both faster and more efficient. The division is also looking at implementing ERAS, a surgery protocol system that’s designed to streamline the patient process before, during, and after surgery. It’s currently being employed throughout the world’s mega-centers, and according to Dr. Rasouli, serves as another example of how SIUH is staying at the forefront of medical innovation and care.
“Our neurosurgery department is one of the most comprehensive in the area,” said Dr. Rasouli. “We specialize in everything from brain tumors and oncologic care to neurovascular issues of the head, neck, and spine. It’s incredible what we are able to offer our Staten Island neighbors. I am constantly challenged by my position every single day; I work with the best people in the world, from our nurses to our tech stato our doctors. For us, to be able to improve someone’s quality of life, especially when they’ve been told there’s nothing that can be done, is the most rewarding part of my day.”
Northwell Health Physician Partners Neurosurgery at Seaview
Avenue 501 Seaview Avenue, Suite 201, Staten Island, NY 10305 / 718.226.4940 siuh.northwell.edu/neurosurgery