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North Hills Monthly

UPMC Passavant Spine Center: A One-Stop Shop for the Treatment of Spine Problems

Feb 27, 2019 12:56PM ● By North Hills Monthly magazine

If you’ve ever experienced back or neck pain, you know how debilitating it can be. The UPMC Passavant Spine Center—located in the UPMC Outpatient Center in Wexford—brings together a multidisciplinary team of specialists to provide the comprehensive care you need in one convenient location.

Since its opening in 2015, the UPMC Passavant Spine Center has drawn a wide range of specialists together under one roof to treat patients. The upcoming late spring addition of neurologists rounds out a comprehensive team of experts that includes neurosurgeons, physiatrists, physical therapists, pain management specialists, and diagnostic imaging specialists.

“It means seamless services for our patients,” says Matt El-Kadi, MD, PhD, FACS, chief of neurosurgery at UPMC Passavant and director of the UPMC Passavant Spine Center, which he helped establish. “All the resources they need will be right here in one location for diagnosis, treatment, and recovery. Our specialists work hand-in-hand to provide quality patient care quickly and easily, with the goal of achieving optimum outcomes.”

The UPMC Outpatient Center in Wexford is especially convenient for patients who need to see more than one expert, says Dr. El-Kadi. Multiple appointments can be scheduled on the same day, saving them numerous trips to see different doctors for the same problem. 


The majority of patients who seek treatment for back and neck pain don’t require a surgical procedure, says Robert Bailey, MD, one of four neurosurgeons seeing patients at the Spine Center.

“More than 85 percent of patients can be treated with conservative measures, including physical therapy, anti-inflammatory medicine, and injections,” says Dr. Bailey. “We try to find a way to alleviate pain, weakness, or numbness without surgery.”

Having other services and experts available at the outpatient center location makes it easy to get a diagnostic x-ray or MRI, or consult with other specialists on the best treatment approach.

“We can just walk down the hallway to confer with a colleague about a patient,” says Dr. Bailey. “That relationship is valuable and key to providing the best and most appropriate care.”


Back and spine pain doesn’t always equal surgery. But when surgery is needed, the Spine Center’s neurosurgeons are experts in minimally invasive and advanced surgical approaches. 

“We start with the least invasive approach to relieve pain, restore function, and improve mobility,” says Dr. El-Kadi.

All spine surgeries are performed at UPMC Passavant’s surgical pavilion in McCandless, where three state-of-the-art operating rooms are used exclusively for spinal surgery. The pavilion features spacious, private rooms for patients requiring an overnight stay. 


Wendy Christensen was used to having back pain; it was something she’d lived with for nearly a decade. But last fall, the problem got worse. Much worse.

“It was awful,” says Wendy, 45, a financial analyst. “I could barely sit. I had tingling, numbness, and excruciating pain in my left buttock, thigh, and calf.”

Her stand-by treatments—physical therapy and chiropractic adjustments—no longer helped. Neither did the oral steroids prescribed by her primary care doctor. Desperate for relief, she searched the internet for a spine specialist and found Dr. El-Kadi.

Within a week, she had an appointment with him at the Spine Center. An MRI confirmed his initial diagnosis: a herniated disc in her lower back with leaked disc material pressing onto the sciatic nerve leading to her leg.

Wendy, the mother of two young children, initially opted for a conservative approach: epidural steroid injections administered by a pain management specialist. “I was nervous about having back surgery and the recovery time,” she says. “But Dr. El-Kadi was great; he never pressured me.”

At her follow-up appointment in January, however, Wendy told him she was ready for surgery. “I was in so much pain. I needed relief,” she says. On Jan. 20 at UPMC Passavant in McCandless, Dr. El-Kadi performed a microdiscectomy, a minimally invasive procedure to remove the herniated disc material pressing on the nerve. 

“The relief was immediate! The excruciating pain I felt for three months was gone,” says Wendy. “I’m so grateful to Dr. El-Kadi. He did an amazing job. I have so much to look forward to now and I can’t wait to be active again.”

UPMC Passavant Adds Advanced Brain Monitoring Technology
Procedure allows doctors to observe a patient’s brain and physical activity over an extended period

The intensive care units at UPMC Passavant-McCandless are now equipped with Critical Care Continuous EEG (CCEEG) monitoring—making it one of only four UPMC hospitals in the greater Pittsburgh area to offer this noninvasive advanced procedure.

“A standard EEG gives you a snapshot of the brain at a particular point in time,” explains UPMC Passavant neurologist Arun Antony, MD. “But our CCEEG lets us record a patient for hours or days, in real time. That allows us to watch a patient’s brainwave activity and physical movements precisely when a seizure or event occurs—and that’s especially important when we may not know the underlying cause of a problem.”

The procedure will be used to differentiate seizures from a wide range of conditions, including non-epileptic spells, cardiovascular conditions, and even sleep disorders. A CCEEG can help identify the types of seizures, how often they occur, and where they begin in the brain—all key to making the best possible diagnosis and treatment.

According to Dr. Antony, this technology is another step in UPMC Passavant’s development as a hub for advanced neurologic care. While CCEEG monitoring primarily will be used on neurology and intensive care patients admitted to the hospital, the procedure also will be available for use by other specialties and general nursing floors, as well as referring doctors at UPMC northern tier hospitals.

Collaborative Partners: Neurology Experts Moving
to the UPMC Outpatient Center-Wexford

Relocating a team of neurologists to the same building as the UPMC Passavant Spine Center opens the door to increased collaboration among brain, spine, and nerve specialists.

The brain, spine, and nervous system work together in a complex way. When something is awry, it needs a comprehensive approach. That’s why the upcoming late spring relocation of the UPP Neurology Division to the UPMC Outpatient Center in Wexford is so significant. 

UPMC neurology experts work with patients to manage and treat a full spectrum of neurological conditions, from migraines and Parkinson’s to epilepsy, tumors, and sleep disorders. Easy access to neurosurgeons, imaging, and other specialists at the Spine Center ensures that patients get the multidisciplinary approach needed to address complex brain, nerve, and spine conditions.

“We are creating a comprehensive center for all things related to neurology and spine health,” says Keith Lorenz, senior director of ancillary services at UPMC Passavant.

At the center, neurologists can easily collaborate with a neurosurgeon to determine if a surgical procedure can help a patient. Likewise, neurosurgeons can consult with a neurologist to determine if a condition can be treated more conservatively, says neurologist Arun Antony, MD.

“We are thrilled with the move,” says Dr. Antony. “Being in the same location as the Spine Center enhances collaboration between neurologists, neurosurgeons, and other experts. Bringing all of these specialties together enables us to focus on how to best improve the quality of life of our patients.”

“It’s a dream come true,” says Matt El-Kadi, MD. 

“Neurology was the one component we were missing here. Having the neurology team join us at the UPMC Outpatient Center-Wexford will only mean better outcomes for our patients.”

The neurology team and their specialties include:
• Arun Antony, MD — epilepsy and general neurology 
• Erek Lam, MD — sleep and general neurology 
• Justin Lander, CRNP — general neurology
• Andrew Levin, MD — headaches
• Angela Lu, MD — nerve conduction/EMG
• Robyn Massa, MD — movement disorders and general neurology
Neurology services offered onsite at the outpatient center include:
• BOTOX® injection for migraine
• Epilepsy clinic
• General neurology clinic
• Headache clinic
• Stroke telemedicine

CONTACT INFORMATION: UPMC Outpatient Center in Wexford, 724-772-4500


At first, Larry Campbell thought he had slept wrong when he woke up with a kink in his neck and numbness in his fingers. But as the pain worsened and his movements became increasingly restricted, the New Castle resident recognized the all-too-familiar symptoms of a cervical disc problem—the same problem he had corrected surgically over two decades earlier while living in Oregon.

“I knew what was happening. They were the exact same symptoms,” says Larry, 61. He promptly went to his family doctor, who sent him to Dr. El-Kadi. An MRI confirmed he had another bulging disc in his neck. 

Larry tried physical therapy for three weeks before deciding on surgery. “I was ready,” he says. “I couldn’t stand the pain anymore. It was like having a 500-pound gorilla on my shoulder.”

The surgery performed at UPMC Passavant in March 2018 was complicated. Dr. El-Kadi removed the old fusion in the C5-C6 spinal segment and damaged disks in C4 and 7—a procedure known as a cervical discectomy—followed by a fusion to stabilize the spine.

“The pain was gone—gone!—immediately,” says Larry. The retired corrections officer chose to take it easy in the year following his surgery. But now he looks forward to fishing and playing softball again.

“I tell anyone who’s suffering from back or neck problems that there’s no reason to live with the pain. Go see UPMC’s experts at the Spine Center!”