Jun 15, 2020


What an unprecedented time we are currently living in! The COVID-19 has imposed challenges for our spinal community at multiple levels. This has impacted training, surgical practice, research, clinical care and certainly has adversely affected personal stress and well-being. However, given the resilience and team-work of our community we are confident that we will successfully navigate these challenges and transition to a brighter future.

Around this time of the year, we gather at SpineFEST Day to highlight the accomplishments of our spinal community, as well as to disseminate recent clinical and scientific advances. This year is no exception! We decided to hold our SpineFEST virtually using Zoom Webinar technology. In order to present the conference in a more accessible format, we decided to split the usual all-day event into two evening webinars. On Monday June 15th at 5pm Professor Marcus Stoodley, (Sydney-Australia) will present the Tator-Hall Lecture on the management of syringomyelia. This will be followed by a session on the Craniovertebral Junction with a focus on Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome. On Tuesday June 16th, the second webinar will focus on the research accomplishments of our trainees which will be presented through oral talks and an online e-poster session using VoiceThread technology.

We are very grateful to Dr. Stoodley for agreeing to presenting his lectures virtually and for graciously accommodating our SpineFEST schedule. Dr. Stoodley is the Head of Neurosciences and leads the neurosurgical research team at Macquarie University Hospital in Sydney, Australia – it is one of the largest neurosurgery research groups in Australasia with focused expertise in syringomyelia,  CSF physiology, and brain AVMs. In addition to his neurovascular expertise, Professor Stoodley is recognised internationally for the clinical management of disorders of the craniovertebral junction and syringomyelia. Please join us in welcoming Professor Stoodley to our SpineFEST 2020!

This year the University of Toronto Department of Surgery Spine Program celebrates its 12th Annual Spine Academic Day “SpineFEST”. It has been a productive academic year as our program continues to foster important city-wide collaborations within the University as well as participate and lead on several key regional and international initiatives. Our program has grown a respected academic footprint locally, nationally, and globally. Collaboration, inter-professional, inter-departmental, and inter-disciplinary knowledge exchange remains the key element to our success.

Recent activities have leveraged our education platform that has included the creation of a national spine surgery fellowship training curriculum for cognitive and procedural competencies. Building on this, our program, over many years, has established and enhanced Neurosurgery and Orthopaedic Surgery spinal training opportunities between Toronto Academic Health Sciences Network (TAHSN) teaching hospitals (Toronto Western Hospital (TWH-UHN); Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre (SHSC); Saint Michael’s Hospital (SMH) and Hospital for Sick Children (HSC)). We have built a top tier academic hub which attracts 12-15 national and international clinical fellows and many visiting surgeons each year.

Over the past years, our program continues to offer both a one-year core fellowship training experience and a two-year fellowship program with first year comprehensive spine training experience followed by second year with more focused and advanced subspecialty exposure. While the fellowships are largely focused at one of the TAHSN hospitals, great options exist for a city-wide experience. Many thanks to Drs. Stephen Lewis, Eric Massicotte, Joel Finkelstein, Howard Ginsberg, Henry Ahn, and Reinhard Zeller for their valued help in shaping our city-wide fellowship training opportunities. Building on our national fellowship curriculum our program also continues with the surgical case-log for our citywide spine fellows. We thank Dr. Jeremie Larouche, Dr. Tony Bateman, and Ms. Nadia Jaber for designing a successful case-log program for our fellows.

Each year we launch our University academic calendar of events with a welcome dinner for our incoming fellows which is combined with an update of our city-wide research opportunities. Thanks to Dr. Carlo Ammendolia and Karl Zabjek for organizing the research meeting. We also organize a mini bootcamp course for our fellows and senior residents on Traumatic Spinal Cord Injury which covers management, clinical trials, case controversies and the detailed ASIA neurological assessment. Thanks to Dr. Sukhvinder Kalsi-Ryan for coordinating the course with Drs. Fehlings, Yee, Jeremie Larouche and Jeff Wilson. Each year, Dr. Stephen Lewis (TWH-UHN & HSC) chairs a city-wide fellow surgical skills course, introducing advanced anatomy of spine with fellows performing anterior and posterior surgical approaches as well as spinal instrumentation. This year on June 9th, Dr. Lewis extended this course to include advanced complex procedures (e.g. deformity osteotomy, minimally invasive surgery (MIS), and trauma techniques). In compliance with Covid-19 preventive measures our Program managed to facilitate and lead the way for an outstanding surgical skills course with a combination of wet lab, simulation, and virtual faculty lectures/case discussions throughout the day.

For several years now, we continue to complement the resident’s surgical training with our Royal College Mock Oral on Spine course Co-Chaired by Drs. Fehlings and Yee. On Feb 12th  our city-wide spine fellows took a key leadership role in teaching the residents and organizing a selection of representative case scenarios in examination format. The fellows also provided valuable tips and updated literature reviews. We also host City-Wide Fellow Journal Club several times a year to discuss recent and controversial spine articles and a collection of relevant cases. We thank Dr. Lewis and Dr. Finkelstein for hosting two of our journal clubs on deformity and trauma at their residences.  Dr. Fehlings and Dr. Yee also hosted an online Journal Club webinar on COVID-19 and its impact on spine surgery.  The program featured Dr. Yongchao Wu, a former U of T fellow, and his first-hand experiences from Wuhan China which included valuable strategies for us towards managing health care services during the pandemic.  The webinar was timely, well attended and received quite positive responses.

Our Program continues to invite several world-renowned visiting professors each year to our hospital–based visiting professorship series in order to provide lectures on their area of interest in spine care and research. On November 4th we held the Tator-Turnbull SCI symposium which we host jointly each year with TWH to pay tribute to the enormous contribution of Dr. Charles Tator and Barbara Turnbull in driving SCI research and related advocacy. We thank Dr. Brian Kwon from the University of British Columbia who provided an excellent keynote presentation on translational research in acute spinal cord injury. The event also featured a special talk from Dr. Hideyuki Okano from Keio University-Japan who shared perspective on the challenges of stem cells clinical trials for SCI. On February 4th we also hosted a special lecture featuring our guest speaker Dr. Simon Archibald from Dublin who presented application of regenerative medicine with focus on peripheral nerve and spinal cord injury. Given the current situation, it was unfortunate that we had to postpone a planned May 6th hospital based visiting professorship at SickKids with Professor Dror Ovadia from Israel; we look forward to his postponed visit next year on January 25th.

We would like to take this moment and welcome new faculty to our spinal community. Dr. Christopher Witiw, a spine neurosurgeon at St. Michael’s Hospital and Dr. Michael Hardisty, a scientist at Sunnybrook Research Institute joined our program this past academic year.  There have also been numerous awards that we would like to recognize.  We congratulate Dr. Fehlings on winning the 2019 Ryman Prize in recognition of his contributions to understanding degenerative cervical myelopathy. Also, congratulations to Drs. Yee and Cari Whyne on receiving the distinction of being named Fellows of International Orthopaedic Research (FIOR) from the International Combined Orthopaedic Research Society (ICORS).  Congratulations to Dr. Lewis on his appointment as the Chairman AO Spine Knowledge Forum Deformity and to Dr. Arjun Sahgal on his appointment as the Co-Chair of AO Spine Knowledge Forum Tumor. Dr. Michael Fehlings established and is Past Chair of the AOSpine Spinal Cord injury Knowledge Forum. It is remarkable that three U of T Spine Program surgeons have been recognized by the AO Foundation in this way. We also congratulate Dr. Meaghan O’Reilly on receiving the ISTU Frederic Lizzi Early Career Award and Dr. Jeff Wilson on receiving the Government of Ontario Early Researcher Award and for receiving the Peters Prize from the Department of Surgery.

We also wish to celebrate the graduation of our 2019/2020 city-wide spine fellows (Drs. Allan Martin, Anna Reinmuller, Thorsten Jentzch, Colby Oitment, Hananel Yashuv, Brett Rocos, Kaoru Eguchi, Isaac Carreno, Kunal Bhanot, Eric Crawford, Carolyn Lai, Tan Chen, and Dora Pelletier). We congratulate all our fellows on successful completion of their fellowship and we wish them great success in their professional and personal life.

We would like to thank all our program faculty members and industry partners for their support over many years, and particularly during this unprecedented time. We also wish to recognize the support from the U of T Department of Surgery and Divisions of Neurosurgery and Orthopedic Surgery. We are privileged to benefit from the diverse and specialized expertise of our program membership. Special thanks to Ms. Nadia Jaber, our Program Coordinator, for her outstanding expertise and technological skills which have become of great value in moving forward our collaborative agenda and virtual academic activities during this evolving time.


Michael & Albert