Dr. Raj Nangunoori had the good fortune to choose a neurosurgery residency program where he got hands-on experience in the operating room almost immediately. There, a fascination with neurosciences that began in his childhood was met with the delicate structures of the brain and spine.
“It was challenging and exhilarating. Once you see the brain or spinal cord, it is beautiful, exhilarating and humbling. You realize that there must be something greater than ourselves. You realize your belief in a higher power,” he said. “There’s an immense privilege in operating on the organs that make someone who they are and are responsible for the whole of human experience. That’s something that draws me back in every day.”
Dr. Nangunoori’s early interest in neurosciences started when he read the biography of a neurosurgeon. Cases outlined in the book were compelling, and he was fascinated by the concept of neuroplasticity, the brain’s ability to heal and “rewire” itself. An accelerated high school program led him to an early finish of his undergraduate degree at Drexel University in Philadelphia, where he also completed medical school.
Dr. Nangunoori completed a fellowship in functional neurosurgery and a residency in neurosurgery at Allegheny General Hospital in Pittsburgh, where he met Dr. Alejandro Castellvi, a neurosurgeon who joined Mercy in 2019. The pair became friends while training together, and Dr. Castellvi encouraged Dr. Nangunoori to join Mercy to help build a neurosurgical practice in an area with a great need for specialists, especially neurosurgeons.
Upon completing a fellowship in minimally invasive and complex spine surgery and 3D navigation at Weill-Cornell Brain and Spine Center in New York, Dr. Nangunoori joined Mercy.
Dr. Nangunoori trained in minimally invasive surgery because it has been shown to produce good patient outcomes and lessen the chance for future issues for the patient. In many cases, patients can return home the same day or next day.
“When you select patients carefully, you can minimize risks and reduce the chances of creating a deformity down the road,” he said.
From the outset of his education in neurosurgery, Dr. Nangunoori trained on technology platforms sometimes known as “robot-assisted” surgery that give surgeons real-time imaging and assist with navigation for incisions and device placement. The technology is important, but a neurosurgeon’s greatest asset is conducting a thorough exam and listening carefully to a patient’s complaints and symptoms, he said.
For example, an MRI of the spine may show multiple problems, but depending on the patient’s level of discomfort, Dr. Nangunoori may choose to give the patient time to heal before trying surgical intervention.
“Just because something looks bad, it doesn’t mean you have to do surgery. A surgeon must take the image in context with the patient’s assessment of how their symptoms are affecting their life,” he said. “If someone’s in imminent danger or in intractable pain, then surgery may be the best option.”
Dr. Nangunoori’s research interests include deep brain and spinal cord stimulation, and he received the top resident research prize for his work at Allegheny General Hospital in 2014 and 2016-2019.
He is a member of the Congress of Neurological Surgeons and the American Association of Neurological Surgeons and serves on the association’s Information Technology Committee.
In addition to Dr. Castellvi, the neurosurgical team Dr. Nangunoori joins includes two nurse practitioners who specialize in neurosurgical medicine, Paula Stephens and Kali Eddy.
A referral is not required to make an appointment at Mercy Clinic Neurosurgery – Physicians Plaza at 2708 S. Rife Medical Lane, Suite 140. Phone number is 479-338-3720.