News & Press

November 10, 2014

His Workspace is Your Brain

Negocios Now National Edition, Oct-Nov 2014

Dr. Alzate is featured in the Oct-Nov edition of Negocios Now.  Read the full story below or click here.

Octubre-Noviembre 2014 NegociosNow El Especial
By Tara García Mathewson

Juan Alzate is one of only a few people in Illinois doing a minimally invasive surgical procedure on the brain. There are fewer than 50 doctors performing the surgery nationwide. But the Colombian-born neurosurgeon is modest. “I’m not an inventor or anybody so
special,” Alzate said, “but, basically, I was using a new technology that I think is going to help improve the outcome in some brain tumors.”

The Six Pillars Approach was developed by Alzate’s former professor and combines existing technology in an innovative way. Brain mapping and GPS technology allow neurosurgeons to navigate through the natural folds of the brain toward hard-to-reach tumors
without cutting healthy brain tissue. Most of Alzate’s patients go home the next day after getting this procedure and experience minimal pain.

Pioneering the Six Pillars Approach is exactly how Alzate prefers to navigate his career. He doesn’t have as much time for his own research as he’d like, but he values patient contact and enjoys integrating others’ innovations into his own practice. “At the end, the most important is to translate research into reality,” Alzate said. “I want to be part of that -- the reality.”

Alzate grew up in Cali and attended the Universidad del Valle Medical School before coming to the United States for his nuerosurgical training at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York City. Once he graduated, he accepted a job at the American Center for Spine and Neurosurgery in Libertyville and has been there ever since. Alzate performs surgeries at many of the hospitals throughout Lake County, seeing about 80 patients and performing 10 to 14 surgeries every week. It’s a busy life, fitting in family, work and research, but Alzate  loves it.

As a medical student he was always drawn to brain surgery, often sitting in on surgeries before that ever became required for his degree. He found neurosurgery one of the most fascinating fields. “We know very few things, really, about the brain,” Alzate said. “That
captivated me. Once I got into medical school, I didn’t see any other thing but to be in neurosurgery.”

The Affordable Care Act hasn’t changed too much about Alzate’s patients. He almost exclusively saw insured patients before. But he is navigating a changed system. He sees medicine becoming more corporate, doctors being asked to see more patients every day to earn more money for the increasingly large medical systems dictating their work. “The health system is changing,” Alzate said, “but I don’t know if it’s changing for the better.”

Even before the ACA, Alzate said patients who needed surgery got it. Whether they had great insurance, terrible insurance or no insurance, hospitals performed life-saving procedures on anyone who walked in. The problem then and now is for patients with chronic pain. That requires expensive, long-term pain management that often relies on good coverage to coordinate.

Insurance questions aside, the stark realities Alzate has to share with patients are a constant. The very nature of his job means people come to him with life-or-death problems. Sometimes those people have lived long lives; sometimes they’ve barely started theirs. Sometimes Alzate can remove a benign tumor and give his patients good news. Sometimes he has to tell a patient his or her life expectancy is just a few months. That news can be tempered with the hope of more time, thanks to surgery, but often more time is still less  than people want. “All of us, we will die,” Alzate said.  "Sooner or later everybody is going to die. … The difference with people with brain tumors is that they know the time is already counting down.”