For many years, Judith suffered from increasingly debilitating back pain that radiated down her right side and into her leg, to the point she couldn’t even walk anymore. In 2010, she was diagnosed with lower back scoliosis and underwent a corrective spinal fusion surgery to straighten her spine. While that surgery helped alleviate her hip and leg pain, other pains and problems soon emerged.
Surgical complications develop
“After about a year, I began to experience new sorts of pain,” Judith says. “When my body started to bend forward, I couldn’t believe the pain.” As a result of the surgery, her spine fused and straightened rather than taking on the normal S shape, and she developed a condition called flatback syndrome. Flatback syndrome is very painful, as the muscles of the pelvic area and back are fighting the spine imbalance to keep the patient upright, and eventually, patients end up pitched forward and unable to walk or stand. “By then, I was essentially bedridden and in excruciating pain all the time,” Judith says.
Finding the right surgeon
It was only after Judith had a fall that landed her in the hospital that a nurse recommended Dr. Baron S. Lonner, Chief of Spine Surgery and Director of the Spine Institute of New York at Mount Sinai Beth Israel, a gifted spinal surgeon who had helped her son.
“When I came into the exam room to meet Judith, she was lying flat on her back and in obvious severe pain,” Dr. Lonner says. “Her condition was having a tremendously negative impact on her quality of life.” A diagnosis of lack of adequate sagittal alignment and loss of sway in the lower back was made using clinical history, X-rays and MRI.
Dr. Lonner’s genuine concern and expertise on her condition put Judith at ease. “At that first appointment, I got the full evaluation and diagnosis, including plans for surgery,” she says. “It was comforting to me that he had a handle on the issues and you could see he was really concerned for my well-being. I was also impressed with his willingness to take on a revision surgery.”
Choose an experienced surgeon
Revision surgeries to correct previous spinal fusions are major procedures, so patients should review their options with an experienced surgeon before making any decisions. “It’s important to go to an experienced surgeon for this type of a procedure,” Dr. Lonner says.
Judith’s procedure was performed in August of 2013. During the six-hour surgery, Dr. Lonner and his team removed part of the previous surgery’s spinal instrumentation (rods and screws), and added stabilizing devices below the initial site and into the pelvis. This created a foundation, he says, to restore erect posture and pelvic sway. Then, working carefully around the nerves, he took wedges of bone out of some vertebrae to realign the spine. New implants were then placed where the older instrumentation had been removed.
“Immediately after the surgery, Dr. Lonner went to the visitors lounge to report to my three children and husband that it had gone well,” Judith says. She was sitting up in a chair the day following the procedure, and recovered in the hospital for five days with the help of a physical therapist.
Grateful for a return to normalcy
After Judith’s incisions healed, she began rehabilitation by walking in a swimming pool, which helps to strengthen the core muscles. Further outpatient physical therapy helped work on mobility and physical conditioning.
“This was a very successful surgery,” Dr. Lonner says. “It has restored Judith’s function, her pain has resolved, and she has energy and the ability to do things. Like with many patients, there has been a dramatic improvement in function and a decrease in pain.”
Now, after many years of pain, Judith is feeling better at age 70 than she had for decades. “I’m able to lead a normal life. I drive, I run errands, I can go up and down the stairs at home. Dr. Lonner gave me back my life,” she says.
To make an appointment with a spinal surgeon, call 1-855-411-LWNY (5969) or visit the Mount Sinai Beth Israel Department of Orthopedic Surgery website.