Our Passion, Your Health

Our Passion | Your Health features stories on the latest happenings at Penn State Health St. Joseph. Check out our blogs, recipes, patient stories, program highlights, and new services that represent our passion...your health.

St. Joseph Partners with Giorgio to Bring Healthcare to Employees

Many employees of the Maidencreek Township-based Giorgio Group of Companies experience long work days. They commute back and forth to their work sites, and have busy schedules outside of their jobs. All that can make it a challenge to schedule and receive regular, routine medical check-ups.

With that in mind, Penn State Health St. Joseph partnered with Giorgio to bring healthcare services right to the work places of Giorgio employees. Care is provided in a 32-foot recreational vehicle that’s been equipped to serve as a medical facility.

The idea, according to John Morahan, President and CEO of Penn State Health St. Joseph, is to increase access to healthcare, and to get employees to make primary care a priority. Too often, continued Morahan, primary care is not obtained, and treatable or preventable conditions go unchecked.

Penn State Berks Students Create Videos for St. Joseph

Penn State Health St. Joseph and Penn State Berks celebrates another successful collaborative partnership. Under the instruction of Dr. Kesha Morant Williams, Associate Professor of Communication Arts & Sciences, the students partnered with Penn State Health St. Joseph Marketing and Medical Group Administration to complete their service learning and community based research project that captures – through video – what Penn State Health St. Joseph is all about.

The students wrote, designed, and directed three “ready to go-live” videos focusing on what makes Penn State Health St. Joseph unique – its services, architecture, innovation, and people. We encourage you to grab some popcorn and take it all in.

Penn State Health St. Joseph’s Innovative Care showcases what makes Penn State Health St. Joseph unique and special including the design of the building and its innovative services.

A Glimpse into Penn State Health St. Joseph’s Culture is a warm portrayal of the people and culture at Penn State Health St. Joseph.

WE ARE Penn State Health St. Joseph highlights what Penn State Health St. Joseph is all about.

150 Minutes to a Healthier Life

Who is ready to hang up the winter coats, put away the snow boots and get off the couch? It’s hard to believe that spring is here, but it is. This is the perfect time to get outside and restart our New Year’s resolution to exercise.

Penn State Health St. Joseph is here to help! We created a program, FIT150, that encourages everyone to “fit” in 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic activity (or

75 minutes of vigorous exercise) every week as recommended by the top heart and cancer research centers. 150 minutes is only 2 hours and 30 minutes – less than the time it takes to binge 3 episodes of This Is Us!

This formula has the following benefits:

  • Reduces the risk of some cancer, heart disease and type 2 diabetes
  • Reduces high blood pressure
  • Reduces cholesterol
  • Helps with weight loss
  • Elevates your mood
  • Increases your energy levels
  • Strengthen bones and muscles.

How does this break down?

  • At least 30 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic activity at least 5 days per week for a total of 150. If your time is limited, split the 30 minutes into a 15 m
    inute morning and an evening session.
  • At least 25 minutes of vigorous aerobic activity at least 3 days per week for a total of 75 minutes; or a combination of moderate- and vigorous-intensity aerobic activity
  • Moderate- to high-intensity muscle-strengthening activity at least 2 days per week for additional health benefits.

What is Moderate Aerobic Exercise?

Moderate aerobic exercise includes activities such as brisk walking, tennis doubles, spring cleaning, swimming, and mowing the lawn.

What is Vigorous Aerobic Exercise?

Vigorous aerobic exercise includes activities such as running, cycling, tennis singles, and playing soccer and basketball.

There is an exercise routine for everyone. Find something you like to do, and it suddenly doesn’t feel like a dreaded activity. You will see results and feel good about those 150 or 75 minutes a week.

Hard to get started? Engage a friend, family member or a co-worker to take the FIT150 pledge with you. Together, you will be on the road to fitness and improved health.

We are proud to be partners with some local fitness centers YMCA, BLDG. 7 Yoga and Corps Fitness. If you take our FIT150 pledge, we’ll email you free gym passes.  Put your sneakers on, take the pledge and get moving! http://www.thefutureofhealthcare.org/fit150/

Community Health Workers Complete Training for Potential Careers in Medicine

There was nothing but smiles last month as 15 students graduated as new Community Health Workers during a ceremony at the Langan Allied Health Academy at Penn State Health St. Joseph’s Downtown Campus in Reading.

The graduating class was the 10th cohort to complete the 100-hour training program, a collaborative of Penn State Health St. Joseph, the East Central Pennsylvania Area Health Education Center (AHEC), the Literary Council of Reading-Berks and other local partners.

While in training, students study a variety of topics, including chronic diseases, behavioral health, tobacco cessation, healthcare access and reimbursement, first aid, and basic medical terminology.

While some of the work occurs in the classroom, much of it is conducted in the field, as students are encouraged to be out in the community, learning about local resources, making contacts, and exploring what opportunities may be available to them.

Although the program is not set up as training for any particular position, completing it can help lead to a job, explained Laura M. Welliver, a Penn State Health St. Joseph Grants and Special Projects Officer who directs the Community Health Workers program.

Community Health Worker graduating class in December 2017.

“It isn’t offered as a job training per se, but those who complete the program report that it really helps them with career change or advancement,” Welliver said.

AlehyEspinosa Ramos, Community Health Worker graduate, addresses the class about her experience.

Ahely Espinosa Ramos of Reading said she hopes that graduating from the program will help her to find a job in which she can assist young mothers who are alone, a situation that she had experienced.

“I was that person who needed help and didn’t know anyone,” she said. “I’d love to be able to help someone else who is in that same situation.”

Sherian L. Henry of Spring Township has a background in teaching, but wanted to complete the Community Health Worker training in order to be a more effective helper in her community.

“I really wanted to find a way to use my skills in the community,” Henry said. “Completing the program really opened my eyes to the opportunities that are out there.”

A Community Health Worker is defined by AHEC as a “trusted member of the community with a gift for helping people prevent or manage disease or other physical or mental health issues.”

Penn State Health St. Joseph has hired Community Health Workers to assist with its Diabetes, Prenatal, Family Practice and Breast Cancer programs, explains Welliver. Graduates of the program also have been hired by agencies such as Berks Counseling Center and Centro Hispano.

“It works well to have Community Health Workers in settings that require a lot of patient follow up or intensive case management,” Welliver said.

Since Penn State Health St. Joseph began the trainings nearly four years ago, more than 120 students have graduated. The group that graduated in December was one of the largest cohorts in the program’s history.

Henry O. Mateo Mendoza receives his diploma from Kim Zientek, lead instructor of Penn State Health St. Joseph’s Community Health Worker program.

“It’s so exciting to see how this program has grown and the students have blossomed,” Welliver said. “There is a dramatic need for Community Health Workers in our community, and every one of these graduates can make a difference.”

Henry O. Mateo Mendoza, the only male to complete the training with this cohort, also is a student at Reading Area Community College and works a full-time job. While finding time for the training program was difficult, he said that having earned the designation of Community Health Worker is rewarding.

“I’ve been through a lot in my life, and if I can help someone with the skills that I’ve acquired, then that’s what I want to do,” said Mendoza, of Reading.

The Community Health Worker training program is offered at least twice a year, and there is no charge to participate. Anyone who would like more information can visit www.thefutureofhealthcare.org/community-health-worker-training or contact Laura Welliver at 610-378-2474 or lwelliver@pennstatehealth.psu.edu.

Lives of Penn State Health St. Joseph Donors Mirror Hospital’s Core Values

Ray and Carole Neag’s long history of giving is reflective of the core values of Penn State Health St. Joseph, said President and CEO John R. Morahan during a recent event to honor the couple.

Photo Courtesy of The Reading Eagle

“Ray and Carole together are all about improving health care and improving the lives of the most vulnerable among us,” Morahan said. “Their lives mirror the core values of this institution.”

A recent gift from the Neags will help Penn State Health St. Joseph to continue to practice and improve on its core values of reverence, integrity, compassion and excellence.

The Wyomissing philanthropists donated $2 million, with which St. Joseph purchased a da Vinci Xi robot that can be used to perform surgeries that are less invasive and quicker, requiring less healing time and less medication to deal with pain.

“With this generous gift from Ray and Carole Neag, we can now begin offering to the Berks County community the latest in cutting edge technology with the da Vinci Xi,” Morahan told a group gathered at the hospital to recognize the Neags.

The robot will be used at first to perform hysterectomies and other gynecological surgeries, and then expanded for other types of surgeries, including prostate, colorectal and general procedures.

It is the most advanced robotic medical technology available in Berks County, according to Marissa Miller, a surgical technician from Schuylkill County who is helping to train St. Joseph staff to use the robot.

“This is the only Xi in the area,” Miller said. “This patient population is getting the highest quality equipment available, and that equipment was not available in Berks County until now.”

The co-founder of Arrow International, now Teleflex Medical, a company that provides specialized medical devices, Ray Neag has a keen appreciation for advanced technology, especially that which is designed to benefit the medical field.

“New technology is the thing that we need for our community and our friends at St. Joe’s,” he said. “This is a great community, and we have to keep giving to make it even stronger.”

Carole Neag, a former emergency and maternity nurse, said that she and her husband are passionate about contributing to medical and educational causes.

“We come from a medical background, and we believe strongly in the value of education,” Carole said. “We want our gifts to help as many people as possible.”

While the Neags provided most of the funding for the da Vinci Xi, the cost of purchasing the machine, renovating an operating room to house the robot and training staff exceeded $2 million.

Dr. Harlan Kutscher, who practiced urology at St. Joseph before retiring, and his wife, Carole, donated funding for staff training.
That training is being supervised by Dr. Stephanie Estes, director of Hershey Medical Center’s robotics program. Estes also expressed gratitude for the generosity of the Neags and Kutschers.

“I am really grateful, and our entire community is grateful,” Estes told the couple. “Your energy and interest in this, coupled with a caring staff, will make it possible for us to improve our care for our patients.”

Penn State Health St. Joseph’s experienced surgeons and robotics-assisted surgery team now offer additional minimally invasive surgical options using the da Vinci Xi surgical system. If you have any questions or would like more information, contact 610-378-2898 or email info@thefutureofhealthcare.org

Three Physicians and Friends Team up in a New Medical Practice in Robesonia

Similar goals and values, mutual admiration for one another and some fortuitous timing resulted in three friends and colleagues becoming partners in Penn State Health St. Joseph’s newest medical practice in Robesonia.

Physicians Meredith Gable, Robert Mandel, and Roland Newman began staffing the new family practice in May, and have been busy getting assimilated in the Western Berks community.

So far, they report, business is good.

“We do everything from newborn to palliative and hospice care,” explained Dr. Mandel. “Patients have their choice of doctors, but then we will always pick up for each other if one of us isn’t available.”

The physicians met in 2013 when Dr. Gable, 29, and Dr. Mandel, 33, and were residents in St. Joseph’s Family Residency Program and Dr. Newman, 39, was a faculty member there. They got along well, enjoyed each other’s company and discovered that their philosophies regarding the field of medicine were closely aligned.

With graduation looming on the horizon for Dr. Gable and Dr. Mandel , they began thinking about their options.

Knowing that Penn State Health St. Joseph was looking to expand its healthcare services to Western Berks, where it did not yet have a presence, the doctors decided to look into staffing it. They got Dr. Newman on board, and the three of them presented themselves as a team.

“I came to Dr. Newman and Meredith and asked what they thought about us coming together as a group,” said Dr. Mandel. “It seemed like the timing was good, and we all thought we’d be good partners.”

Leadership agreed, and the doctors got working to help design their new office space at 410 E. Penn Avenue in the former Giannotti’s Italian Kitchen, just across from Conrad Weiser High School.

EKG, lab services, physical therapy, and x-ray also are offered at the site.

“We were able to contribute our ideas regarding the design and look of the space,” Dr. Gable said. “We wanted to make it a comfortable and functional place for our patients and staff.”

The doctors also were able to hire their staff and set the tone for the practice.

“We want to offer high quality, comprehensive care in a family-oriented and collaborative atmosphere,” said Dr. Gable.

The doctors work well together, discussing concepts and problems in shared office space.

“This room is our fish bowl of ideas,” said Dr. Mandel. “I can’t tell you how many times a day I turn around to bounce idea thought off of Dr. Gable or Dr. Newman. I think that’s a good way to work.”

The friends and partners are excited about their new venture and are already planning how they’ll expand the practice. Family practice is an important specialty, said Dr. Newman, and in the past residents of the western part of Berks County did not have much high quality family care readily available in their community.

Their practice is accepting new patients, and the doctors are looking to engage community members in becoming partners in their health care. Each of the doctors spends a half day each week at nearby Phoebe Berks Village and Health Care Center, and are looking to become increasingly involved in the community.

“We look forward to working with our patients and the Greater Western Berks area,” said Dr. Newman. “Quite honestly, family medicine is the backbone of the medical system, and all of us are very committed to it.”

Robesonia's primary care physicians are available for adult and children wellness visits and routine screenings, non-emergency illnesses like earaches and sore throats, sports physicals and immunizations, and conversations about your health questions and concerns.
Call 484-987-3456 for an appointment or learn more here

Inspired by St. Joseph Community Benefit Report, Penn State Berks Professor Writes Book from a Patient Perspective

What started as a project for a health communication class at Penn State Berks became the inspiration for a book that gives voice to women suffering from illnesses that cannot be seen.

It was the fall semester of 2015, and Dr. Kesha Morant Williams, associate professor of communication arts and science, was looking for a service learning project for an introductory level class she was teaching.

Dr. Kesha Morant Williams

The class, which was linked to Penn State’s Center for Service Learning and Community Based Research, was tasked with working with a local organization to fill a need, while fulfilling the requirements of the class curriculum.

Working with Julia Nickey, director of patient and organizational engagement at Penn State Health St. Joseph, Williams arranged to have her students write stories for the hospital’s 2015 Community Benefit Report.

The report highlights programs and activities aimed at promoting community health that the hospital sponsors or supports.

“We were trying to figure out what would be a good link to the service learning center, course objectives and the community. After talking with Julia this seemed like a great fit,” Williams said.

The project gave students opportunities to interview people who had benefitted from St. Joseph’s programs or services, and to write their stories. Instead of writing the stories from a medical viewpoint, however, Williams charged students with employing patient-centered communication.

“I told them that their job is to let the voice of the person they interviewed come through,” said Williams, a former newspaper reporter with a deep interest in health issues. “I like to hear the other side of the story. Very rarely do we hear the patient’s perspective.”

Students completed their interviews and wrote their stories, meeting not only patients, but community members from a number of organizations. The Community Benefit Report was deemed a success and distributed throughout Berks County, but it remained in the forefront of William’s mind.

The professor had long thought about writing a book about illnesses that are real, but cannot be seen. She wanted to tell the stories of people suffering from conditions such as ulcerative colitis, fibromyalgia, borderline personality disorder or post-traumatic stress disorder.

While working with her students on St. Joseph’s Community Benefit Report, it became clear to her that the book should be written in the voices of the people it chronicled.

“It made me think how I could create a text that gave women a voice and readers a viewpoint they may not have had,” explained Williams. The result is a book expected to be published later this year by Maryland-based Lexington Books. It includes the stories of 11 women who suffer from serious illnesses that are not visible to others, but are the source of pain, distress and, often, shame. “Some of these women really struggle with guilt and shame as a result of their illness,” Williams said. “Being able to tell their stories in their own voice can be empowering to them.”

Writing from a bio-medical perspective is fine and often necessary, but tends to focus only on physical health, Williams asserted. “It’s a way to address the medical issue, but it doesn’t address the lived experiences of the patient,” she said. “It doesn’t account for mental or emotional or spiritual health.”

Writing from the perspective a patient can help readers understand underlying conditions and circumstances that may be easy to misinterpret. For instance, Williams said, a mother may decide not to take her medicine one day because it causes dizziness and nausea. While it may be clinically unacceptable for her not to take her medicine as directed by her doctor, it is necessary to the woman because her son is pitching in a championship baseball game that she desperately wants to attend.

Women with unseen diseases often are viewed as lazy, or as whiners, while they actually are simply trying their best to cope.

Participants in Williams’ book include nurses, professors, a physician, a research fellow and a graduate student. They are mothers, wives, daughters and friends – all looking for someone to hear their voice. They tell their stories, as edited by Williams, or she writes their stories in their voices.

The result, she said, is powerful. “Hearing the stories of these women moves assumptions and humanizes these conditions,” Williams said. “It lets their voices be heard.”

Interested in reading the students’ inspiring stories in the Community Benefit Report? Check it out here

Penn State St. Joseph Pediatrician Returns from Second Trip to Ghana

Dr. Haley Spagnola, a Penn State Health St. Joseph pediatric hospitalist, returned from her second trip to Ghana in March with an increased appreciation for its people and the hardships they face on a daily basis.

Malnutrition is common in the West Africa nation, with many children suffering from its effects. “There definitely are food scarcity issues, and because of that the children experience a variety of problems,” Spagnola said.

Included in those problems are developmental delay; organ damage; stunted growth; and rickets, scurvy and blindness – results of vitamin deficiencies.

In spite of their problems, the people of Ghana are warm and welcoming, and deeply appreciative of the efforts of Penn State Health Milton S. Hershey’s Global Health program, which sponsored the trip.

“They’re really thankful that we give up our time to come and help them,” Spagnola said. “They love sharing their culture and their food. They are a very lovely people.”

Children, many of whom had never seen a white person before, were particularly fascinated by those visiting. “They touch you a lot,” recalled Spagnola, who is petite and very blonde. “They liked to touch my hair, because it was so different than theirs.” Spagnola, 31, also traveled to Ghana last year while in residency at Hershey Medical Center. This year, she accompanied Hershey residents as a chaperone.

Hershey’s Global Health program partners with Mountcrest University College and the Eastern Regional Hospital in Ghana, and is helping the College to establish a medical school in the village of Larteh. The medical school, set to open in the fall, is the first in rural Ghana. Penn State students and doctors also worked in Eastern Regional Hospital during their trip, treating both inpatients and outpatients.

“In the morning we would round in the inpatient ward, and then we’d go to the outpatient clinic in the afternoon,” Spagnola said. They also interacted with medical staff, working to bring evidenced-based practices to the hospital.

“One of the big things we’re looking at is a large longitudinal project to help improve practices,” Spagnola said.

Ghana has a national health system, but coverage is limited. While the national system covers basic services, patients may have to pay for prescriptions or tests. If financial resources are not available, services may be denied. Some Ghanaians have private insurance, but many rely on the national system.

Making the most of available resources is extremely important, Spagnola explained, and those resources often are very limited. Experiencing those limited resources while working at Eastern Regional Hospital deepened Spagnola’s appreciation of the availability of supplies and services in the United States.

“It makes you appreciate more the resources that we have, and inspires you to try to use those resources more wisely,” she said. “Despite some of the problems we have with our healthcare, we still are very fortunate for what we have.”

Spagnola hopes to return to Ghana next year, perhaps with some of St. Joseph’s family physicians.

“The program is growing quickly, and there are plans for more and more trips,” she said.

Staff members from Eastern Regional Hospital also have visited Hershey Medical Center. The partnership, Spagnola said, is beneficial to everyone.

“Learning about a different healthcare system is really important, and experiencing it hands on is a great opportunity,” she said. “As this partnership continues to grow, more and more residents and doctors will be able to benefit from that.”

Haley C. Spagnola, DO is a Pediatric Hospitalist at Penn State Health St. Joseph, delivering high-quality medical care for infants, children, and adolescents during their in-patient hospital stay.

Penn State Health St. Joseph Working to Raise Awareness of Sexual Abuse

A case of sexual assault occurs every 98 seconds in America, according to Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network (RAINN), the nation’s largest anti-sexual violence organization.

Tina Roman-Rios, a community health worker in the OB/GYN Department at Penn State Health St. Joseph’s downtown campus, is working to change that.
“My mother raised me to know that I’m important enough to not be in an abusive relationship,” Roman-Rios said. “And I want to let others know that they are that important, too.”

Working toward that end, Roman-Rios created a display at Penn State Health St. Joseph’s Family and Women’s Center at the Downtown Campus. A large bulletin board provides information and facts in English and Spanish, urging people to recognize and take action against domestic violence and sexual assault.

“I designed it so it’s eye-friendly and easy to read,” Roman-Rios said. “You don’t need to understand big words or medical terms to understand what it means.”

The board, along with an information table that Roman-Rios tends to, will remain in place throughout April and into May. April is Sexual Assault Awareness and Prevention Month.

Safe Berks donated items and information packets that Roman-Rios distributes to people who visit the Downtown Campus.

“I think it’s important to keep this issue in the public eye,” she said. “Sexual violence isn’t something that we can keep quiet about. We get a lot of people coming into this clinic who can learn if we provide information for them.”

In addition to educating patients and their families about sexual assault and prevention, Roman-Rios and others in the OB/GYN and Women’s Care group encourage women to seek help, when necessary.

“We see patients who, for various reasons, are reluctant to call the police in cases of domestic violence or abuse,” she said. “And, that is a problem.” However, she explained, there are other sources of help. “If someone is afraid to call the police, they should call the Safe Berks hotline,” Roman-Rios said. “And, if they can’t call, they can text. The important thing is to seek help. Someone who is abused needs counsel.”

Victims need to remember that sexual abuse happens among every socio-economic group, ethnic group and religion, and that they are not to blame.
“Abuse is never the victim’s fault,” said Roman-Rios, who is studying to be a nurse. “That’s something that everyone needs to remember.”

Roman-Rios admitted that, as a teenager, she did not understand the mentality and circumstances that cause some people to remain within abusive situations.

“I was little judgmental,” she said. “But people should never judge. Abuse very easily can be mistaken for love.”

The OB/GYN and Women’s Care clinic is a safe place where patients who are experiencing difficulty can talk to someone who cares about them, Roman-Rios noted.

“We understand the perils that some of our patients face and we do whatever we can to help them,” she said.

Roman-Rios, who has lived in Reading her entire life, is committed to bringing positive change to the city and her patients that live there.

“I care about this city, and I’m working to make a difference,” she said. “And, I’ll teach my children to work to make a difference, too. I think that we can change things for the better, even if that change starts with a simple board in a downtown clinic.”

How to Find Help

If you, or someone you know, is a victim of domestic abuse or sexual violence, there is help available.

Safe Berks offers a 24-hour, toll-free hotline at 844-789-SAFE (7233). You also can text SAFE BERKS to 20121 for help, or contact by email at peace@safeberks.org.

Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network (RAINN) also offers a 24-hour, toll-free hotline at 800-656-HOPE (4673). Or, you can live chat online in English or Spanish on RAINN’s website at rainn.org.

Medical Advancements to Ease Your Pain in the Neck (and Back)

If you’ve ever experienced back or neck pain, as eight out of every 10 people have, you know how debilitating it can be. Even mild pain can stop you from participating in activities you enjoy and make completing tasks of daily living uncomfortable. Those with severe pain sometimes are unable to do much at all, as every movement can cause increasing discomfort.

According to Dr. Kenneth L. Hill, a neurosurgeon who joined the staff of Penn State Health St. Joseph in December, there are reasons for those suffering from back or neck pain to be optimistic, as there have been many advances in the field, with more on the way.

“There are some exciting treatments and developments coming down the road,” Hill said. There are many reasons for pain in the back and neck, he explained, and most – 80 percent – can be managed with medications, rest and therapy. Sometimes, however, those therapies don’t work and surgery becomes an option. “It’s the other 20 percent that get referred on,” Hill said.

Pain associated with neck and back pathology can be difficult to pinpoint, but the most common reason for pain is degeneration of spinal discs, the soft discs that separate the vertebrae.

Degeneration is very common, especially affecting the discs in the lumbar region (lower back), and those in the cervical region (neck). “It happens to all of us,” Dr. Hill explained. “It’s a factor of gravity pulling us down and us standing upright.” While degeneration sometimes has no symptoms, changes in the spinal discs can result in neck or back pain, sometimes accompanied by osteoarthritis, herniated disc or spinal stenosis.

These conditions can cause pressure on the spinal cord and nerves, resulting in pain and sometimes affecting nerve function. Trauma is another common cause for pain and problems with the back and neck.

While treatments such as therapy and medication always are recommended as the first-line defense against neck and back pain, there are instances, such as when a patient is experiencing problems with bowel or bladder control, that he or she should be referred to a neurosurgeon.

“If you’re experiencing bowel or bladder problems, you must urgently see a neurosurgeon,” Dr. Hill said. “You come to see me after you’ve gone through all the conservative measures without relief. Surgery should be a last resort, not a go-to option.”

Ruth Grant, 79, experienced three back surgeries between 1972 and 2015. She suffers from spinal stenosis, a condition that results in narrowing of the spinal canal, the area which holds the spinal cord.

Grant, of Robeson Township, highly praised Dr. Marcus Keep, a neurosurgeon at Penn State St. Joseph who performed her surgery in 2015. “I can’t sing his praises enough,” Grant said. “It was the easiest surgery I ever had, and I was a lot older than I was when I had the other two.” A notable, recent advancement in back and neck surgery is artificial disc replacement. During the surgery, a mechanical device is inserted to replace a worn, degenerated disc or discs.

The procedure replaces spinal fusion, during which one or more vertebrae are fused together, eliminating motion between them. Fusion surgery was long considered the best surgical treatment for severe degenerative disc disease, but doctors are increasingly looking to artificial disc replacement, Hill said.

“I’ve probably done about 30 of them over the years,” he said. “There are new reports coming out every month and it depends on what you read, but for right now, we know they (artificial disc replacements) are not inferior to fusion.”

Other promising advances are occurring in areas including surgery to treat spinal cord injuries, stem cell implantation to treat certain conditions and biomechanics.

Kenneth Hill, Jr., MD, FAANS is board certified in Neurological Surgery and is an Associate Professor on faculty at Pennsylvania State Hershey as well as on staff at Penn State Health St. Joseph’s Department of Neurosurgery. Dr. Hill specializes in the diagnosis and surgical treatment of disorders of the central and peripheral nervous system including congenital anomalies, trauma, tumors of the brain and spine, infections, stroke and degenerative diseases of the neck and back. For an appointment call 610-378-2557.