Remembering and Honoring a Courageous Patient and His Physicians

Contributions to the Kevin G. Braden Memorial Fund support leading-edge initiatives designed to benefit patients facing complex diagnoses.

When Chicago resident Kevin Braden needed critical spinal surgery, he sought treatment at Northwestern Medicine from Zachary A. Smith, MD, assistant professor of Neurological Surgery and Orthopaedic Surgery at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine. Dr. Smith has great expertise in complex spine surgery as well as in minimally invasive procedures, including stereotactic radiosurgery (SRS), which uses many precisely focused radiation beams to treat tumors and other problems in the brain, spine and other areas of the body. With the latter type of treatment, no “traditional” surgical incision is required. Rather, the treatment uses 3-D imaging to direct high doses of radiation to the affected area, with minimal effect on adjacent healthy tissue.

Though Kevin passed away in January 2016, he made an indelible impact on the lives of those around him, and his legacy lives on through his wife, Megan, who established the Kevin G. Braden Memorial Fund, administered through the Chicago Community Trust. The fund raises contributions in Kevin’s honor with the goal of providing support for young adults facing devastating diagnoses. Aided by the generous support of Megan, the Braden family, and dear friends and relatives who have contributed to the fund, Dr. Smith is applying his expertise to a pivotal study that addresses the importance of enhancing treatment for individuals with spinal tumors. This initiative is a collaboration between Dr. Smith and his colleague, Sean Sachdev, MD, assistant professor of Radiation Oncology at Feinberg, as well as members of Northwestern University’s Department of Computer Science.

“Many of us in neurosurgery and radiation oncology have been asking the question, ‘What if we could form a unified approach to treating patients with spinal tumors—an approach in which both the surgeon and the radiation oncologist are involved, upfront, in creating a patient’s treatment plan?’” remarked Dr. Smith. “We are so grateful to Megan, the Braden family and everyone who has contributed to the Memorial Fund in Kevin’s name, for enabling us to launch a project that addresses those needs. We want to strengthen collaborations and communication for the benefit of patients who are fighting spinal lesions, as Kevin did so bravely.”

Through their project, Dr. Smith and Dr. Sachdev and their team are working to develop an approach that will leverage the strengths of various treatment modalities in a modern way, by facilitating 3-D image importing, for example, as well as other processes, all of which will exist within a secure Northwestern Medicine application. Ultimately, this new approach will allow members of different specialties to offer input on proposed treatment plans, and to sign off internally on a plan that has earned the support of all involved parties.

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