All too often organizations and institutions forget the reasons why they were formed and the reasons for which their founders created them in the first place. Presented here is a first hand account of the actual origin of the North American Spine Society (NASS) documented by its founders and not by modern minstrels. The impetus to create NASS was a natural progression of evolution after the creation of the International Society for the Study of the Lumbar Spine (ISSLS) and the Challenge of the Lumbar Spine in the early 1970s. The original concept for the creation of a spine society dedicated to the interests of spine professionals in North America were first explored in 1978 by the Editor and William-Kirkaldy -Willis. The early thinking regarding the formation of this organization was reflected in Dr. K-W’s May 30, 1979 letter to the Editor.
In order to further pursue the concept of a North American Spine Organization and explore objectives and purposes an informal meeting was organized in Excelsior, Minnesota from August 10-12, 1979 by the Editor. Invited participants were William Kirkaldy-Willis (Orthopedics), Leon Wiltse (Orthopedics), David Selby (Orthopedics), Charles Ray (Neurosurgery), Kenneth Heithoff (Radiology) and Stanley Paris (Physical Therapy). The Excelsior meeting resulted in the group’s unanimous recommendation to approach the ISSLS and request that its good offices be used to support a North American organization. The thoughts of this group were summarized by Dr. Kirkaldy-Willis on August 14, 1979. A proposal was therefore drafted and forwarded to the ISSLS where it was presented at the 1980 meeting by Drs. Kirkaldy-Willis and Burton. To make a long story short the ISSLS did not demonstrate any enthusiasm for this concept and proposed instead that the presenters first carry out a survey of spine fellowship programs in North America and provide this information to the ISSLS Executive Committee. This survey was then dutifully performed and presented to ISSLS. After two years of ISSLS creating more and more “busy work” for the proponents it became clearly evident that ISSLS was not acting in good faith and that the presenters had been the subject of a time-consuming “run-around.”
The impetus and energy to not accept defeat was provided, in 1982, by David Selby who resurrected the now, almost dormant effort. The next step forward was a summit meeting held in association with the annual American Association of Orthopaedic Surgeons (AAOS ) meeting held in Atlanta, Georgia on February 1, 1984. It was organized by Drs. David Selby and Vert Mooney with Mark Brown, Charles Burton, Anthony Dwyer, Kenneth Heithoff, William Kirkaldy-Willis, Casey Lee, John McCullough, Robert Watkins, Arthur White, and Leon Wiltse in attendance. A spine meeting in Vail, Colorado from July 25-29, 1984 was then proposed to create a “North American Spine Society” (NASA). 175 spine professionals were invited to the Westin Hotel in Vail for the scientific and social programs which were enthusiastically received. Leon Wiltse was elected as the first president of NASA.
The February 1984 AAOS meeting in Georgia was also significant in that orthopedic surgeon Robert Morrow, on his own initiative, rented a room and invited a group of colleagues to join him in creating an organization of spine surgeons. The name “American College of Spine urgeons” (COLS) was adopted and a 1985 meeting was planned. Official recognition this group by the AAOS required that they be a nationally based organization with two meetings prior to application.
It thus came to be at in the year 1984 two separate spine organizations were formed (one interdisciplinary and the other orthopedic). When these groups discovered the existence of each other it became evident to all concerned that they were basically directing their efforts at the same group of professionals and that it would be most reasonable to amalgamate the individual groups and pool their effort. A special gathering was therefore arranged at the second meeting of the North American Spine Society (NALS) which had, by then, become the North American Lumbar Spine Society (NALSA). A meeting of NALSA with the COLS executive committees was held at the Ritz-Carlton Hotel in Laguna Niguel, California. Representing NALSA were Charles Burton, William Kirkaldy-Willis, and Arthur White. The COLS representatives were Edward Dumbrowski, David Dufner, Edward Frohning, Richard Nasca, Elmer Nix, and Walter Simmons. Harry Farfan, founder of the International Society for Study of the Lumbar Spine (from Montreal, Canada) was invited to serve as the moderator. There can be little argument but that Farfan’s stewardship of this meeting created a harmony and accord rarely seen among members of the surgical profession. A union of NALSA and COLS was enthusiastically agreed to by the respective executive committees and on July 24, 1985 the new, interdisciplinary, “North American Spine Society” (NASS) came into existence.
In 1990 David Selby reflected on the birthing process of NASS. Typically, he did not dwell on the hardships and frustrations involved. From the material presented here it is clear that the founders of NASS had significant concerns regarding the inadequately trained spine surgeon and the need to create an educational organization open to all professionals interested in spine care and focused on the needs of its membership. While NASS opened its arms to the professional spine care establishment it has been, for a time, a merchandising mart for industry, rather than the educational forum it was originally intended to be. The Editor of Burton Report wishes to note that some of the present NASS leadership are now striving to bring a better balance to the organization.