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The Cost of Integrity

In our daily lives we’re constantly faced with decisions and choices. When we go to buy a car, for instance, we know there are “available options” and realize it’s to the benefit of the salesman to sell us those options because as we opt for more, his commission increases. However, none of us like to think of surgery in these terms. While encouragement from salesmen is expected, it’s unnerving to think we’re being encouraged into surgery by someone who has a stake in it. We trust our healthcare providers – they know sensitive and personal information about us. We think they always have our best interests at heart, and in fairness, many of them do. However, something we should all be aware of is that surgery is a multi-billion dollar a year industry, which raises the question of whether or not all of the surgery being done is necessary.

Enter, Las Cruces, Neurosurgeon, Brett Henderson.

Hailing from Peoria, Illinois, Henderson attended medical school at the University of Illinois College of Medicine then relocated to Albuquerque to undergo his residency in neurosurgery at the University of New Mexico Health Sciences Center School of Medicine. He attained his certification through the American Board of Neurological Surgery (ABNS) and in addition to all of his formal training, also benefited greatly from the tutelage he received from his father, Dr. John Henderson, who practiced neurosurgery for 35 years and who trained under Dr. Eric Oldberg – who, in turn, was an understudy of Dr. Harvey Cushing, who is widely considered to be the greatest neurosurgeon of the twentieth century.

After six years as part of El Paso Orthopedic Surgery Group and working at R.E. Thomason General Hospital in El Paso, Henderson began to consider where he might do the most good. While he was certainly providing much needed services where he was, Las Cruces was entirely without a neurosurgeon. With this in mind, he made the move to Mountain View Regional Medical Center in October 2005 where he spent two years prior to going into private practice. Needless to say, the community has welcomed him with open arms. At last, Las Crucens needing neurological consults and surgery can avoid trips out of the area. If surgery is necessary, they no longer have to consider the prospect of commuting back home after the procedure.

Another thing patients of Dr. Henderson benefit from that isn’t on his resume is his candor. Some people who understand surgery from a business standpoint are leery of seeking a surgical consultation because they concerned a surgeon may not provide them with an unbiased opinion. When we talked to Dr. Henderson about conditions of the brain and spine, we got some answers on the subjects that might surprise you. “Even in this day and age, back pain is still very misunderstood,” he told us. “It is a common problem shrouded in mystery partly because it can be caused by so many different things; nobody thoroughly understands it.” He explained though there are some problems that are clear cut and can be remedied via surgery, there are many neurological conditions where only the symptoms are treatable. For instance, the Frontotemporal Lobar Degeneration Senator Pete Dominici announced being diagnosed with on October 4, 2007 is a condition where there is no known cure.

He goes on to say that even conditions that can be treated surgically, might not warrant it. For example, compression fractures of the spine (often caused by osteoporosis) can be stabilized surgically. However, if the patient isn’t in pain and perhaps only found out about the condition due to a routine x-ray, surgery can likely be avoided. “Many people live their entire lives with no knowledge of a particular health condition,” he explains. “While every patient and condition needs to be analyzed individually, generally speaking, you wouldn’t do neurosurgery on something like a compression fracture that is not affecting quality of life.”

Further, Henderson stresses the need for patients to self-educate so they may clearly understand their options. “People should not be afraid to ask questions,” he insists. “If a doctor can’t explain, in simple terms, the diagnosed condition and what the surgery will accomplish, they should go elsewhere. Surgery is VERY serious and they need to understand.” He’s also an advocate of patients getting a second opinion and even a third if so inclined. He advises going outside of the group the first doctor is affiliated with in order to avoid a conflict of interest.

When you think of surgery as a business, you might find it strange to hear a surgeon of Dr. Henderson’s caliber state, “Most conditions don’t require neurosurgery.” Is he putting himself out of business? Certainly he is not. There will always be a need for surgery and he realizes this fact. Though none of us like to believe it, it’s naive to say no doctors ever perform surgeries simply to line their own pockets; no industry is without corruption. As for Dr. Henderson’s practice, it’s simple; it centers around tried and true practices coupled with carefully listening to his patients. The truth is: he could do more surgeries. But, the cost of compromising his judgment for financial gain - and knowing it is at the direct expense of the health of his patients - is a luxury not afforded him by his conscience.

Nothing in this article, either stated or implied, is meant to be a substitution for medical advice. Readers shouldn’t allow anything discussed (or alluded to) herein prevent or delay the seeking of firsthand medical advice on their behalf or on the behalf of others over whom they have influence.

Published Sp/Su 2008

Jillian A. Mills

Linda Montoya


Dr. Brett Henderson
Southern New Mexico

2525 S. Telshor Bldg B Ste A
Las Cruces, NM 88011

I will apply, for the benefit of the sick, all measures [that] are required, avoiding those twin traps of overtreatment and therapeutic nihilism. I will remember that there is art to medicine as well as science, and that warmth, sympathy, and understanding may outweigh the surgeon's knife or the chemist's drug.

– Excerpt from
   Hippocratic Oath
modern version


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