Dr. Carlos BagleyComplex Spine Surgery Specialist in Dallas

Carlos A. Bagley, M.D., believes in being a constant learner. “The more you do of something, the better you’re going to be at it,” he says.

This unflagging devotion to improving his craft is what allows Dr. Bagley, the Director of UT Southwestern’s multidisciplinary Spine Center, to master minimally invasive techniques and perform complex spine surgeries that many would deem undoable.

“It’s not uncommon for me to see a patient who has been told there’s nothing that can be done, when in fact it’s only that there’s nothing easy that can be done,” Dr. Bagley says. “With the right skill set and techniques, that patient can be treated successfully.”

As a neurosurgeon, Dr. Bagley’s niche is in complex spine surgeries and advanced minimally invasive techniques, including the latest surgical treatments for spinal tumors and spinal deformities such as scoliosis and kyphosis. But he also performs routine spine procedures, as well. His focus is not just on the single event of a surgical procedure but rather on total spine care and the constant pursuit of better outcomes for patients.

“We focus on helping them to get back to activities that might not otherwise have been possible,” he says.

Talent, technique, experience

Dr. Bagley notes that at UT Southwestern surgeries that are very challenging and require a multidisciplinary team effort – “where we’re basically taking the spine apart and putting it back together” – happen on a regular basis. That high-level collaboration gives his team both the experience and the opportunity to perfect the newest surgical techniques and approaches that improve outcomes for patients.

His team is, for example, expert at minimally invasive techniques, in which smaller incisions and devices are used to achieve the same outcomes as the three-foot-long incisions and multiple screws and rods that are often required with traditional approaches.

For tumors of the spinal cord or spinal column, Dr. Bagley says that new techniques allow him both to access areas that at one point were thought to be inaccessible and to remove a tumor completely without contaminating the surrounding tissue.

“We’ve been able to reduce the incidence of recurrence for oncology patients, increase their ability to get back to full function, and, in some cases, to improve their overall survival and longevity following spinal diseases,” he says.

Even with the latest tools and techniques at hand, Dr. Bagley emphasizes that experience is the defining factor for a successful treatment.

“Surgery is only one component of the overall care, and rarely is surgery the first or only option. My philosophy is that any surgery is the last resort. Whether it’s minimally invasive or not, you want a surgeon who is going to explore all options and choose the appropriate technique for your situation, not someone who uses the same hammer for every nail,” he says.

Patient partnerships

When surgery is the appropriate option, Dr. Bagley says success requires a partnership between the surgical team and the patient.

“I grew up as an athlete and played football in college, so I’m a big proponent of the team concept. I’m part of the team. The patient, his or her family, and other specialists I work with are all a part of that team. Part of my role is to empower my patient, to help him or her understand everyone’s role and how we can be successful together.”

Dr. Bagley is proud to be a part of a team of specialists across many disciplines who come together in the Spine Center to support each patient’s success.

“We provide services that encompass the full spectrum of needs for all spine patients,” he says. “For a percentage of those, the answer is going to be surgery, but for the majority the answer is going to be nonsurgical, such as physical therapy or behavioral health. We’re looking holistically at our patients and utilizing all the resources and all the talents we have simultaneously to take optimal care of the patient and optimize the outcomes we achieve.”

For Dr. Bagley, what makes the UT Southwestern Spine Center a foremost destination for total spine care is the ethos of constant improvement.

“We never stop learning,” he says. “One of the strengths of our program is the research at our foundation, which allows us to look at where we are and beyond for opportunities to improve. You improve only by continuous self-reflection, by asking difficult questions and never saying that anything is impossible.”