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‘We want what is best for the patient’

Tristate Brain & Spine Institute

The mission of the doctors and staff at Tristate Brain Institute is “the evaluation and treatment of all types of brain and spine problems no matter how complex.”

According to Dr. Sunny Kim and Dr. Hamid Abbasi, “The patient is our number one focus. We want what is the best for the patient. Surgery is undertaken only after conservative measures are exhausted.”

The institute offers MRI scans, CT scanning, bracing and in the near future, will offer spinal injections, as well as additional services.

Dr. Kim became acquainted with this “greater Minnesota” area many years ago and has extensive experience in spine surgery. He is the most qualified and most experienced spine surgeon in the area and has performed more than 15,000 cases of spine surgery in more than 25 years. His present position as orthopedic spine surgeon follows his experience as chief of surgery (January 2007-2009) at the Douglas County Hospital.

“I began serving patients through the Alexandria Clinic to better serve the patient, for their convenience, so they wouldn’t have to drive to the Twin Cities. People are hard working, so appreciative, and anxious to get back to work in the rural area.”

Dr. Kim moved his medical practice to Alexandria in November of 2002.

“Our patients just want to find solutions to their pain and get back to work.”

The positive feedback both Dr. Kim and Dr. Abbasi received was instrumental in their decision to build a “new, state-of-the-art facility.”  The Tristate Brain and Spine Institute opened (formerly Central Minnesota Spine Center) in its new location this past September.

The Tristate Brain and Spine Institute is one of the first of its kind in this region, providing world-class spinal pain care. Its open, upright MRI scan is one of only three in the United States. The MRI allows imaging to be done on the patient in an upright position instead of lying down.

He explained, “Spinal problems are seen more clearly when the patient is upright.” He used the analogy of a flat tire to explain, “The weight of the car is on the tire on the ground. When you raise it up you are better able to ascertain the problem and fix it.”

Technology has made it possible for both Dr. Kim and Dr. Abassi to diagnose symptoms and determine noninvasive treatment plans. Keeping in mind what is best and most convenient for his patients, Dr. Kim had imaging done on his spine in order to determine what equipment and technology would conform best to serving his patients.

“Our goal is to provide the best care to this community, with no needles or surgery, no radiation,” said Dr. Kim.

Dr. Hamid Abassi, who joined Dr. Kim in March 2012, added, “By having the right people on staff, and the right technology, we can have world-class care here. We can provide top-of-the-line care in a city of 13,000 (Alexandria).”

The practice area covers a population base of more than one million people, including patients from the Canadian border and south through Iowa, North and South Dakota and Wisconsin and the Twin Cities. It includes people driving five hours, from all directions, coming to Alexandria for their needs in spinal pain and brain care needs.

In the midst of growth for his medical practice, Dr. Kim sought out a partner, finding through word of mouth and referral, Dr. Abassi, a neurosurgeon. Dr. Abassi specializes in very complex spinal disease and adult deformity surgery as well as complex brain, spinal cord and pituitary tumor surgery. Both physicians have the same work ethic in serving their patients Growth in the number of patients, along with specialization in service, precipitated the move to a new, larger facility.

Lori Johanson-Olson, who had joined Dr. Kim in November 2002, added, “Insurance companies began encouraging providers of brain and spine care to become a one-stop shop for the  convenience of their patients, whether it is to offer injections, imaging, physical or occupational therapy or any patient needs in brain and spine care.”

There are currently 16 professionals on staff at the Tristate Brain and Spine Institute.

“We are proud to claim that our clinic is 100 percent paperless, meaning that all the data, including medical records and imaging studies, are digital and computerized,” said Johanson-Olson.

Electronic medical records are immediately available at the end of patient visits and can be given to patients upon request. Records can also be transmitted to referring physicians without delay on the same day of patient visits.

Dr. Kim and Dr. Abassi attend to patients at the Institute two days a week, seeing anywhere from 25-30 patients each day, including imaging services. They typically see anywhere from 100-150 patients per week, including all age groups from as young as 3 months old to people well into their 90s.

“Different problems arise in different age groups. We also see patients traumatized in car accidents on I-94,” said Dr. Kim, “Surgery is a last resort in treatment. We strive to provide noninvasive treatment plans; however, if surgery is required, it’s all done at the Douglas County Hospital.”

Dr. Sunny Kim is a fellowship-trained orthopedic spine surgeon who is board-certified in American Board of Orthopedic Surgery as well as the American Board of Spine Surgery.   He performs more than 500 spine cases each year in addition to various spine injection interventions. He performs minimally invasive spine surgeries and has completed orthopedic surgery residency at the prestigious Columbia University Medical Center in New York City which was recently ranked as one of the top three medical centers in the nation.

Dr. Hamid Abassi is a neurosurgeon, board certified in American Board of Neurological Surgery. He earned his MD PhD from the prestigious, world-famous University of Heidelberg, the top university in Germany. In addition he has had extensive neurosurgical training at Stanford University and the University of Texas, spanning over 13 years.

Also providing patient services are John Chitu, PA-C, a certified physician assistant and Adam Weichelt, PA-C certified physician assistant.

Curriculum vitae on Dr. Kim, Dr. Abassi, Chitu and Weichelt are available on the website:

President and C.E.O. Lori Johanson-Olson has over 25 years of healthcare experience and finds her work with Dr. Kim and Dr.  Abassi, along with all who work at the Institute, the most rewarding in her professional career. She is a native Alexandrian, graduating from Jefferson High School and earning an Associate degree in finance from the Alexandria Technical & Community College.

An open house at Tristate Brain and Spine Institute will be held on Friday, Nov. 8. Tours of the state-of-the-art facility will be available from 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. during the event.

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