The National Spine Health Foundation was merely a dream in the year 2000. At that time, spinal health care was just emerging as a specialty due to the rapid evolution of technology, along with advancements in educating physicians on how best to treat spinal conditions.
Dr. Thomas Schuler, a spinal surgeon, founded the Virginia Spine Institute in 1992 since a center of exceptional spine care did not exist in the mid atlantic region at that time. In 2000, he realized that a national organization was needed to raise awareness of the success of modern spinal treatments. At that time, spinal healthcare was just evolving as a novel area of medicine. His vision was to create a patient advocacy organization that could conduct research to prove excellent outcomes and to advance spinal healthcare by improving patient knowledge and access to care. This is where Guy B. Beatty, a renowned philanthropist, and a grateful patient enters our story. Mr. Beatty was a patient of Dr. Schuler’s who had very successful spine surgery, and as a result, became passionate about helping to demonstrate the successful patient outcomes quickly taking place in the new field of spinal health. Mr Beatty saw the opportunity to teach the nation about the promise of modern spinal healthcare through education and research. So, he got together with Dr. Schuler and together, they decided to launch their vision for a foundation to improve spinal health care for all Americans through education, research, and patient advocacy. In 2002, Dr. Schuler and Mr. Beatty founded The Spinal Research Foundation, a national 501(c)3 nonprofit. Mr. Beatty was the inaugural chairman and invested a multi-million dollar grant to get the effort off the ground. Mr. Beatty knew that in order to make this venture succeed in conducting clinical research and producing educational content, it required significant capital investment. He personally donated over seven million dollars to enable the foundation to grow. In order to advance the foundation’s work, he recruited Dr. Schuler to serve as the president of the foundation in 2004. Subsequently, the foundation was renamed the National Spine Health Foundation. While the name changed, the mission did not, and it was determined by the Board that this name better represented the true mission and goal of the foundation. Mr. Beatty passed away in 2013, however, his legacy lives on vibrantly at the National Spine Health Foundation. We were particularly proud to be the recipients of his end of life gift requests. We honor his legacy and commitment to the Foundation.
It is clear to see why Mr. Beatty was determined to recruit Dr. Schuler as the President of the Foundation. Dr. Schuler’s practice, Virginia Spine Institute, had become the recognized leader in spinal health not just in the mid-atlantic, but throughout the country. As a pioneer in spinal health care, Dr. Schuler has been recognized in the top one percent of the specialty by Castle Connolly. He has also been recognized in the top 100 spinal surgeons by Becker’s Spine Publication. He is dedicated to continuous improvement, and throughout his career has performed groundbreaking advances, adopting emerging technologies proven to end the suffering of so many from neck and back conditions. Dr. Schuler was directly involved in the FDA clinical trials of rhBMP-2 (bone morphogenetic protein). Through his leadership, the Virginia Spine Institute was the third-largest clinical site in the nation for this FDA trial, which was the first use of biologics in surgery. The results of this intense research were then shared by Dr. Schuler and his team to help surgeons around the world improve their patient outcomes. Through Dr. Schuler’s leadership and collaboration with the National Spine Health Foundation, the Virginia Spine Institute has performed many novel techniques. Dr. Schuler performed the first hybrid multilevel cervical artificial disc replacement with fusion in the nation. Through his medical team, they performed the first robotic guided sacroiliac joint fusion in the world and one of the first robotic surgeries for spinal fusion in the nation. Most recently, the surgical team at the Virginia Spine Institute performed the first augmented reality lumbar laminectomy in the world. His team has also performed the first hybrid-combined minimally invasive spinal fusion/artificial disc replacement using augmented reality in the world. This new surgical technology is proven to make surgery safer and even more minimally invasive. Through Dr. Schuler’s leadership, the Virginia Spine Institute and his collaboration with the National Spine Health Foundation have enabled assistance in many FDA trials including cervical and lumbar artificial disc replacements, bioresorbable implants, novel minimally invasive techniques, and regenerative medicine technologies all designed to improve the patient’s spinal health.
Today, we proudly salute the vision and dedication of our leader, Dr. Schuler. Aside from his stellar medical credentials and impressive medical practice, he is not only the founder of the National Spine Health Foundation, his leadership extends beyond the medical arena into the business world. He is a current member of YPO (Young Presidents’ Organization) which he joined in 2006 and has served as chairman of the US Capital YPO Gold Chapter. Dr. Schuler has been on the board of trustees of multiple organizations and is a frequently sought-after leader, speaker, and innovator. His vision and philanthropy have enabled the creation of an organization that is to the patient communities the same as the American Heart Association is to cardiac patients and the American Cancer Society is to cancer patients. The National Spine Health Foundation is here to benefit all spine patients. The numbers are staggering in that over 100 million Americans suffer from chronic neck and back problems; that’s nearly one in three people. Clearly, this organization impacts every member of our society directly or indirectly. We at the foundation are proud of our history, and as we look ahead, we give hope to a future where fewer people suffer from debilitating neck or back pain due to the knowledge and research achieved through the work and efforts of the National Spine Health Foundation.