Health Care

Bringing Life-Changing Treatment with Advanced Neurosurgical Care

Neurosurgeon Jason Harrison, MD, PhD, with a patient

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Helping Northwest Georgia patients live their best lives after diagnoses affecting the brain, spine or nervous system starts with the highly skilled neurosurgeons and compassionate staff at AdventHealth Medical Group Neurosurgery at Rome. This team provides both surgical and non-surgical treatments to alleviate and treat pain.

John Cowan Jr., MD, FAANS, Jason Harrison, MD, PhD, FAANS, Alex Whitaker-Lea, MD, and the practice became part of AdventHealth’s growing network of health care providers when they opened in September 2023 at 15 John Maddox Drive NW in Rome. Four physician assistants and two nurse practitioners also joined the neurosurgery team.

“This outstanding practice will be a foundation for growth for neurosurgery and additional services that may follow,” said Debbie Smith, AdventHealth Medical Group executive director of operations and strategy for the AdventHealth Georgia Market.

The trio of board-certified neurosurgeons treat diseases and degenerations of the spine, neck and back, as well as pain and dysfunction related to those areas.

“We also treat brain tumors and disorders of the brain that have surgical answers and follow up with people with traumas to the brain or spinal cord,” Dr. Cowan said.

Neurosurgeon John Cowan, MD, speaking with team members
John A. Cowan Jr., MD, FAANS, with neurosurgery team members

With access to AdventHealth Redmond’s accredited NeuroSpine Center, the group provides many minimally invasive surgeries aimed at helping people resume the work and activities they enjoyed before their diagnoses.

“Treatment for a herniated disk can be one of the simplest procedures.” Dr. Harrison said. “If uncomplicated, it can take as little as 30 minutes to do and is minimally invasive.”

He said he often sees patients who have lived with back, neck, leg or arm pain for years before seeking help from a neurosurgeon. Yet many procedures, including removing some brain tumors, are simple, effective remedies.

“Those things can be very easy to remove, and patients get great benefit from it,” he said. “After, they’ll say, ‘That wasn’t as bad as I feared. I should have had that done a long time ago.’”

Dr. Cowan said many of the surgeries they provide only require a hospital stay of a day or two.

“We have interpretative imaging and navigation, which helps us be faster and more precise with some of the surgeries we offer. The hospital invested heavily in technologies to help us achieve the intended outcomes. We also have a staff in the operating room who have been doing these surgeries for years.” —John A. Cowan Jr., MD, FAANS

As the only neurosurgery practice in Rome, they also provide trauma care.

“When it comes to broken spines, head bleeds, subdural hematomas or traumatic brain injuries, we are a full neurotrauma service,” Dr. Harrison said.

The practice also sees patients who do not need surgical intervention but rather monitoring of their symptoms, non-surgical treatments such as injection therapy or referrals to physical therapy or pain management specialists.

“There are a lot of non-surgical reasons to come see a neurosurgeon,” Dr. Harrison said. “Anti-inflammatories can be a powerful therapy for spine pain, and most people don’t know how to use them.”

Neurosurgeon Alex Whitaker-Lea, MD, with patient
Alex Whitaker-Lea, MD

Dr. Whitaker-Lea said most of the patients she sees have had a chronic condition that has deteriorated over time.

“I have the opportunity to have long-standing relationships with those patients,” she said. “The most rewarding part of medicine is when someone is able to get back to what’s important to them, and the only way you can understand what’s important to somebody is by listening to what’s going on and how it’s affected their life. My focus as a surgeon is building a practice based on compassionate care and being someone known to listen, so patients leave feeling like they have the knowledge and power to make a good decision for their health.”

Often, she will monitor chronic patients for months or years before they need surgery, and then she will continue overseeing their recovery and post-surgical care.

“We offer surgery when we think the reward of surgery is greater than the risk,” she said. “I want to make sure they understand the risk of surgery, but also what I feel surgery can do for them. By doing that, the expectations are well managed, and the outcomes are better.”

Dr. Cowan said patients with traumatic brain or spine injuries also benefit by being able to access their services close to home.

“It saves lives, not to overstate it, but the fact is, in an emergency situation, time is brain, time is spinal cord, and if we can get into surgery in less than an hour, as opposed to three hours, the chance of surviving and having more brain function is greater,” he said.

The neurosurgeons said some of their patients, particularly those who are older or who don’t have reliable transportation, will forego treatment if they have to drive out of the county for services their group can provide.

“It is very uncommon for a town this size to have a neurosurgery practice, and patients tend to have to go to a bigger city for those services.”

“Us being here in town not only makes it easier for people to get the care they need, such as for a herniated disc or a brain tumor, but it also saves lives.” —Jason Harrison, MD, PhD, FAANs

Dr. Cowan, a Cartersville native, began practicing in Rome in 2008 after completing a two-year fellowship in population health with the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.

“I’ve wanted to give back to the community that helped raise me. When I was coming out of training, there was a real need for neurosurgeons in the area, and it was a win-win,” Dr. Cowan said. “AdventHealth’s Christian healing mission is something that resonates with me in particular and will enhance my practice.”

Dr. Harrison, who holds a Doctor of Philosophy in molecular biology from the University of South Alabama and capped off his medical training with a complex spine fellowship at Virginia Commonwealth University, joined him in practice in 2016.

“We are a neurosurgery practice that has been in the community for a decade and a half,” he said. “We are a working part of the community. We service the entire community, and that will not change.”

Dr. Whitaker-Lea, originally from Dahlonega and a Berry College alumna, returned to Rome in October 2022 to practice alongside Dr. Cowan and Dr. Harrison after she completed her residency in neurosurgery at Virginia Commonwealth University.

“AdventHealth offers a personal touch with also the resources of a larger entity, and I feel like I’m being listened to about things that are important to me and feel like they’re letting us take care of patients the way we want to take care of patients,” she said.

“All three of us like to listen and provide compassionate patient care and make critical decisions based on what we truly think is best for the patient, and [AdventHealth is] allowing us to do that.” —Alex Whitaker-Lea, MD

Their patients further benefit, she said, from their ability to seamlessly access AdventHealth’s multidisciplinary network of physicians.

“If someone is having surgery, it’s incredibly important other chronic medical conditions, like diabetes and high blood pressure, are well controlled,” Dr. Whitaker-Lea said. “Having a patient’s medical team all in one place at AdventHealth is very helpful.”

Dr. Cowan agreed, saying their practice ensures a continuum of care from a multidisciplinary team of providers who want to make patients feel whole.

“It allows one-stop shopping for [health] care in Rome, as opposed to piecemeal care across several zip codes,” he said.

The group agreed partnering with AdventHealth will allow for the growth of additional neurosurgical services in Northwest Georgia.

“We have the ability to grow beyond what we could grow as a private practice, and that is a benefit going forward,” Dr. Harrison said.

Neurosurgical Care Near You

AdventHealth team member with patient

If you’re facing a brain, spine or other nervous system condition, trust Rome’s neurosurgery experts for the leading-edge treatments and world-class care you deserve to feel whole again.

Learn More Call AdventHealth Medical Group Neurosurgery at Rome

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