A Tool Kit for Spinal Care
Dr. Marco Rodriguez is a firm believer that if a doctor is promising to “cure” your back problems or make you pain-free, you should run (if you’re able) as fast and far away as you can. The good news though, is that through a conservative approach — often a layering of several different solutions — he’s finding that more and more of his patients consider themselves healed.
He cites the results of an early patient he treated with a combination laminectomy (partial-removal of vertebrae) and multi-level ablation (cauterized nerve endings). Many physicians would have fused his patient’s discs, a radical surgery that removes a degree of mobility and often creates as many problems as it solves.
“Weeks later I asked my patient if she needed to refill her pain medicine and she said, ‘I have zero pain,’” Dr. Rodriguez says. “That just blew my mind. I feel strongly it was because we treated all the pain generators, and we did it all without putting a screw in her back. That case stuck with me. I remember thinking, ‘This is working. I’m going to handle more and more of my patients like this.’”
Dr. Rodriguez prides himself on following a course many orthopedists do not: He elects for the least invasive option and uses a team approach to pain management. Beyond injections, he might try the uncommonly used endoscopic surgery before moving up the ladder to minimally invasive surgery and artificial disc replacement ahead of what he says should always be the last option — spinal fusion. His practice, the International Spine Institute, combines his services with those of interventional pain specialist, Dr. Ronald Segura; and the chiropractic and physical therapy care of LA Health Solutions.
“In my mind, if you’re a doctor and all you have is one hammer, you’re going to hammer everything,” he says. “My idea is to provide the whole range, and my whole team is constantly working together to help end the pain.”
He also has Omega Hospital surgery center in his tool kit. Dr. Rodriguez finds patient satisfaction and outcomes are typically higher than in a larger general hospital’s because Omega is dedicated solely to elective surgeries and specialized care in a controlled, even luxurious setting. “It’s more like checking into a hotel than a hospital,” he says.
Because of the intense emotional issues that can come with spine issues, Dr. Rodriguez feels a physician has to be able to connect with and attach to these patients. “It effects finances and home life … for working class men, it’s their identity,” he says. “It can be difficult; it can weigh on you. But you make a connection with their suffering and want to find any way possible to get them on their feet.”
It’s what drew him to his field in the first place. In residency, he saw a man keeled over in tears of pain walk down the hall with tears of joy after spinal surgery. And it’s how he can come home to his wife (a pediatric ICU nurse) and three children under the age of 5 and look them in the eye with a little less guilt when he pulls in the driveway late for dinner.
“I took 45 extra minutes with a patient this afternoon who cried when he told me he’d lost hope,” Dr. Rodriquez says. “Everyone had told him there wasn’t anything left to try. We went through his MRIs and medical records and laid out a plan of action and couldn’t stop smiling — he needed my help. It left me very satisfied.”
He also takes pride in having built a bilingual practice. Both his parents were born in Puerto Rico, and, while he knows that immigration is a hot button topic, he wants to acknowledge these workers are taking risks, doing the hard jobs and often getting injured. “It’s a comfort to have someone speaking your language,” he says. “Especially when you are hurt and scared.”
Even with International Spine Institute in full swing, Dr. Rodriguez can’t help but eye the future. At some point, he would like to step back and do more teaching; to hand off his skill to the next generation of caregivers. But for now: “You have a vision of what you want to create and how you want to help people,” he says. “I want more people to know what I’m doing. I want to let them know they don’t have to have unnecessary major surgery … there are options.”
Dr. Marco Rodriguez sees patients in his Metairie office as well as in Slidell and Baton Rouge.
Marco Rodriguez, M,D.
International Spine Institute
2800 Veterans Blvd., Ste. 140
Metairie, LA 70002
Medical School: Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine, Cleveland
Residency: Orthopedics, LSU Health Sciences Center, New Orleans
Fellowship: Spine Surgery, Texas Back Institute, Dallas
Board Certifications: Orthopaedic Surgery