When Rockford Spine Center opened its doors in the summer of 2003, comparisons could have easily been drawn to “The Little Engine That Could.”
The goal was ambitious: to create a comprehensive, multidisciplinary, world-class center of excellence to provide top-notch and cutting edge spinal care to an area that was desperately in need of one.
“Fifteen years ago, patients with painful spinal conditions would travel to Rockford from many hours away, only to learn that it would take several weeks to schedule an MRI, after which a follow-up visit would be needed,” recalls Dr. Fred Sweet. “If epidural injections, physical therapy or EMG nerve testing were needed, these would be scheduled off-site, often with long wait times. The speed of care was simply too slow, especially if patients were in agony or were worsening neurologically. Now, we offer all these services under one roof, essentially providing a one-stop shop!”
Another tremendous obstacle was attracting spine surgeons from the best training programs to come to Rockford. Fellowship training in spine surgery had already become the norm for many medical communities in the United States, but Dr. Sweet, Dr. Michael Roh and Dr. Christopher Sliva were the very first fellowship-trained spine surgeons to practice in northern Illinois, ushering Rockford spine care into the modern era. “Though many spine training programs exist, only a handful of spine fellowships are regarded as the best in the U.S.,” explains Dr. Roh. “All three surgeons at RSC are from the top fellowships, which likely contributed to our success over the years. Most patients don’t know our training backgrounds, but they can certainly appreciate having an excellent surgical outcome!”
As if retaining talented spine surgeons wasn’t difficult enough, finding a well-trained physiatrist (nonsurgical spine specialist) was possibly even more challenging, especially because the graduates of the top training programs were highly sought after for their nerve-testing skills. Nonetheless, Dr. Marie Walker joined Rockford Spine Center in 2005 after completing her training at the world-renowned Mayo Clinic, thus bringing her much-needed EMG (electromyography) skills and valuable perspective to the practice. More recently, Angela Johnson, advanced nurse practitioner (ANP), has joined her to improve patient access and cut down on wait times.
In the beginning, Rockford Spine Center was comprised of six people working in only half of the third floor of the McFarland Road building. Today, there are nearly 50 employees occupying the entire third floor, along with half the first and second floors, as well. “Over the past 15 years, our growth as a surgical practice has been tremendous,” reflects Dr. Sliva. “To date, over 50,000 patients have received care at RSC, and our word-of-mouth reputation is strong and self-sustaining. I believe that by focusing on superb outcomes and a superlative patient experience, Rockford Spine Center has not only thrived in a challenging medical environment, but is positioned to provide quality care for another 15 years and beyond!”