Expert Blog

Georgann Yara

Spine surgeon revives patients' joy of life

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Shortly after opening the Sonoran Spine in 1998, Dr. Dennis Crandall discovered that performing the duties of a spine surgeon was somewhat easier than being a business owner.

Years of medical school and countless hours in the operating room spent on one of the most intricate and risky parts of the human body did little to educate the native Arizonan on doing payroll, hiring practices and negotiating a lease.

"Doctors may be smart, but that doesn't mean we know anything about running a business. Frankly, it was daunting," Crandall recalled of opening the original Phoenix location.

"It's really easy to show up and take care of patients, do good work and go home at the end of the day. But I was in the dark about (the business aspect)."

Since then, the founder and medical director of the Sonoran Spine has added staff members better equipped to handle the business side while he focuses on patient care and research.

Over the past 14 years, his small business has grown to five locations throughout the Valley. Crandall is the team spine surgeon for the athletic department at Arizona State University, his alma mater.

Crandall's deep interest in the spine and passion for research were the driving forces behind his decision to leave a large orthopedic group and launch the spine center.

People with work-related injuries, children with scoliosis, senior citizens with compression fractures, cancer sufferers and weekend warriors who overdo it are among the center's patients.

"The business model is a one-stop shop for all things spine," Crandall said.

A spine separation brought Angela Gonzales to Crandall's office when she was a teenager in 2006. After a two-part surgery to correct the condition that prevented her from participating in physical-education classes and caused her intense pain, the Glendale resident was eventually able to join her classmates and run a mile in under 12 minutes.

She was also 3 inches taller. 

"It very significantly affected the quality of my life," said Gonzales, now a sophomore at ASU.

This year, she is taking a Latin-swing dance class. Last year, she did a belly-dance class.

"It's done so much for me. Dr. Crandall is a very, very good doctor," Gonzales said.

Danelle Perata was a member of ASU's golf team when a drunken driver T-boned her vehicle, leaving her with excruciating back pain and a bulging disk. After six months of unsuccessful therapies, with her college golfing career on hold and being unable to walk across campus without pain, she went to Crandall for help.

"That first day, I was in his office, in tears. I was a 19-year-old kid, and that was the lowest point in my life personally. He was very understanding, compassionate and professional," Perata recalled of that day in 2005.

In August of that year, she successfully underwent surgery and was able to play in a tournament for ASU in February 2006. Now an attorney, Perata plays golf recreationally and plays in a co-ed softball league.

"There's nothing I won't do because I'm worried about my back. I don't have any limitations. It's fantastic," she said. "I was told I may never play golf again. To have everything come out so good, it's amazing, and I truly think it's the result of Dr. Crandall himself."

Patients' abilities to golf after spine surgery is one of the 30 different research projects that Crandall and his center continue to examine and publish papers about. Crandall founded the Sonoran Spine Research and Education Foundation in 2000.

Fascinated by human physiology as a student at Westwood High School in Mesa, Crandall wanted to be a doctor and set out to become an orthopedic surgeon.

His interest in the spine was piqued while attending Saint Louis University School of Medicine, when he was introduced to treatments on children with crooked spines.

 "The lightbulb went on. Nothing else captured my interest," he said.

 Surrounding himself with quality people and hiring only top applicants have been key to his business' success, he said. Crandall admitted that on most days, he would rather spend several hours in the operating room than on the golf course. This kind of enthusiasm has also been instrumental.

 "I really enjoy being a spine surgeon and I love what I do, and that's taking care of my patients," he said.