PEORIA — Navigation systems aren’t just for cars anymore — orthopedic surgeon Dr. Patrick O’Leary is using a state-of-the art navigation system during spinal fusions at UnityPoint Health-Methodist Medical Center.

The new Mazor X Stealth Edition Spinal Robot was installed at the hospital’s orthopedic operating suite earlier this year. The technology is brand new. The only other hospital in Illinois using it is Rush University Medical Center in Chicago, according to representatives from the company.

The Mazor X Stealth Edition Spinal Robot includes a state-of-the-art robot combined with a navigation system. The robot helps surgeons accurately place screws during minimally invasive procedures, while the navigation system allows the surgeon to see the screws in real time as he places them.

“The robot is amazingly precise with or without the stealth edition, and now I have the ability to see it in real time. It brings the best of both worlds together,” said O’Leary.

While the navigation feature is new, robots have been around for a while. During minimally-invasive spinal fusions, they provide surgeons greater accuracy and peace of mind when placing screws through small incisions. Robots help surgeons find the right placement with the help of pre-operative CAT scans and X-rays taken during surgery. While each new generation of robot has offered improvement, the Mazor X Stealth Edition offered much more than the competition, said O’Leary. After seeing it at a convention, he wanted to bring the system to Peoria.

“I approached UnityPoint last fall and was told that the foundation (UnityPoint Health Methodist Proctor Foundation) does grants on an annual basis. I proposed it to the foundation board, who granted the entire gift,” said O’Leary.

The Mazor X comes with special software to help O’Leary pre-plan the surgery using CAT scans of the patient’s spine.

“I choose what diameter and what length of screws to use, and I chose what angle to put them in. I map it all out before the procedure,” he said.

In the operating room, the robot is anchored to the patient’s pelvis, and X-rays are taken of the spine. The Mazor X reconciles the new images with the preoperative CAT scan, allowing the surgeon to use his plan to assist in placing the screws.

During a recent surgery, five small incisions were all that was needed to do a spinal fusion on the L4, L5 vertebra of a patient. As O’Leary placed the first screw, he saw it was going in the right spot, at the right angle, by looking at a computer screen floating above the patient’s back. The navigation system tracked the screw with the help of a special ray device mounted on the surgeon’s tool. O’Leary adjusted the screw until it lined up perfectly with his preoperative plan.

“The robot tells me exactly where I need to go with ridiculous precision,” said O’Leary before drilling a pilot hole and inserting the screw.

Another plus of the new system over older methods is that fewer X-rays are needed to ensure correct placement, said O’Leary. Fewer X-rays means less radiation for the medical staff.

Right now O’Leary is the only area surgeon using the new Mazor X, but that’s likely to change. Some of his colleagues have expressed interest. O’Leary said the technology is what the future looks like for orthopedic surgeons, who have to choose which new technologies to adopt as technology and techniques continually evolve and improve.

“A lot of less invasive surgeries don’t work as well, but I believe this technology is helping us to be better stewards,” he said. “We want to be more precise, more accurate and less disruptive, and this technology goes a long way toward achieving that goal.”

Spinal surgery is tricky business. Some surgeries that weren’t possible a few years ago are becoming less risky. Technology like the Mazor X is making the formerly improbable possible, said O’Leary.

“It has caused me to re-think patients where the door might not have been open to surgery before,” he said. “There will probably be patients I would offer surgery to now that I wouldn’t have before.”

Leslie Renken can be reached at 686-3250 or Follow her on, and subscribe to her on