Surgeons at St George’s University Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust have used 3D spinal navigation equipment for the first time to carry out life-changing spine surgery.

England Netball Gold Medallists Ama Agbeze, Eboni Beckford-Chambers, Kadeen Corbin and Jo Harten formally launched the equipment at an event at St George’s on Friday 21 December. The team tried their hand at being the surgeon by taking part in live demonstrations before cutting the ribbon to mark the beginning of this equipment being used at St George’s.

Joanna Didoi, 37, a fashion designer from south London, was one of the first patients to benefit from the new technology, which is used at only a small number of hospitals across the country, who also attended the launch.

Mr Darren Lui, patient Joanna Didoi and England Netballers: Ama Agbeze, Eboni Beckford-Chambers, Kadeen Corbin and Jo Harten

Joanna had experienced back pain for a number of years, until specialists at St George’s identified the cause, which was a fracture in one of her lower vertebrae causing it to slip forward giving her back and leg pain. The solution was to stabilise the broken vertebra to healthy neighbouring vertebrae using an intervertebral spacer, screws and rods – this required surgery which, as always with spinal surgery, carries a risk of neurological injury such as damage to the spinal cord.

To reduce the risk of injury to the spinal cord, St George’s spinal surgeons used navigation equipment during Joanna’s operation. The equipment – which was introduced at St George’s in November – enables surgeons to scan the patient during the operation and view a virtual reconstruction of the spine in 3D.  Instrumentation can be safely inserted into the patient and viewed on the virtual spine in real time. This enables more accurate planning of surgical incisions, as well as safer implantation of screws.

Joanna’s scans showing the space, screws and rods inserted

Mr Darren Lui, one of Joanna’s Consultant Spinal Surgeons, said: “We take a number of steps during spinal surgery to reduce the chances of the spinal cord or nerves being damaged. However, the navigation equipment takes this to the next level, by enabling surgeons to view the spine in real time, visualise the areas of danger and avoid them.

Mr Matthew Crocker, a Complex Spinal Neurosurgeon said: “The use of the navigator equipment instead of traditional x-ray technology also means less exposure to radiation for the staff and the patient can avoid the need for a post-operative CT scan.”

Joanna was discharged home three days after her operation, and her recovery is going very well.

She said: “I had such a positive experience at St George’s. I can’t fault the staff, everyone was so caring and I was really well looked after. I’m so thankful to the team. I’m no longer in constant pain, it’s been life-changing for me!”

Jo Harten, Goal Shooter for England Netball, said: “We’re really honoured to be part of this launch. It’s been great to understand and learn more about the surgeries and procedures that take place here – it’s absolutely mind-boggling for us [the netball team]!

She added: “It’s been a privilege to meet some of the young patients who have benefited from this equipment here too. We wish all those requiring surgery the best with their recoveries.”

England netballers Ama Agbeze, Eboni Beckford-Chambers, Kadeen Corbin and Jo Harten with paediatric patient William

Mr Darren Lui said: “It’s fantastic that some of England’s Netball stars were able to join us for our launch. What I’ve learned through them is how important teamwork is within their sport – what they’ve achieved is down to every member of not only their team, but the entire squad, management, coaches – everyone. The same can be seen within surgery. Surgeons play a part in a patient’s surgical journey, of course, but we couldn’t do it without everyone else including anaesthetists and nurses to name just a couple.”

St George’s Hospital Charity is raising money to support research into the treatment for scoliosis and spinal surgery. To find out more about the work of St George’s Hospital Charity, visit their website at

Mr Darren Lui giving the England netballers a live training demonstration

St George’s spine team, patients and the England netballers

Notes to editors

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