Lumbar Fusion Heals a Patient, Transforms a Family

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Published on December 28, 2015

Lumbar Fusion Heals a Patient, Transforms a Family

Lumbar Fusion Patient Story"Thank you, Dr. Frank. You gave my mom a new back. To you, it might be a surgery you do every day but to her, you gave her her life back."

Chase, 13, shared this heartfelt gratitude in an appreciation letter to the spine specialist who made a huge impact on his family – in particular, his mother. The letter, which was a class assignment, found its way to his mom, Terri, and to Clay Frank, MD, Spine Specialist and Orthopedic Surgeon, who restored quality of life for Terri and, by extension, her entire family.

"Dr. Frank looks at the whole picture – not just the bones," says Terri, who had a lumbar fusion that changed her life. "He's compassionate, asked what I did before the accident, what my life was like, and how my injury is impacting my life and others."

Terri sustained a work injury when moving a carton off a pallet. A quick, instinctual motion made a major impact on Terri's life. It affected her ability to work, the hobbies that she shared with her family, and her daily activities of living for five months.

"It was the worst feeling in the world," recalls Terri. "It was so unbelievably painful it was almost numbing."

Her quest to seek relief began with an unscheduled trip to urgent care, followed by a referral to Dr. Frank, and a series of noninvasive, nonsurgical diagnosis and treatment options. An eventual discogram pinpointed the exact areas where she had a herniated disc, disc rupture, and other issues. Surgery was recommended as the only possible solution.

"We did all the steps we could possibly do before surgery," Terri says. "(When we decided that I needed surgery) Dr. Frank said, 'I'll do my best to get you out there to play with your kids again.' It broke my heart that my kids had to see me like that."

"Terri is a lively 42-year-old mother with three children, all of whom are actively involved in sports," says Dr. Frank. "Terri would participate
in practices with them for softball and basketball. She has been an athlete all of her life."

"When she got hurt, her life went into a downward spiral, so much so that her children were profoundly affected by the absence of their mother's active lifestyle."

A former gymnast, kickboxer and participant in a variety of sports, Terri was also an avid supporter of her children's school sports – basketball, baseball, wrestling, and softball. "My mom was always practicing or shooting hoops with us," says Chase. "She loves her sports, and for a mom, she is
pretty good at playing them. Once a week, during the summer, we go to the batting cage – the same one my Grandpa took her to."

The injury changed everything. "She came to one (of our) games but could not sit for too long," Chase says. "She had a very hard time standing. She fell asleep on the blanket because her medication made her kind of sleepy and goofy. She couldn't drive, work, or put on shoes. She wore flip
flops in cold weather."

She slept on a yoga mat in the first floor of the house because she couldn't make it upstairs, and, even if Terri did, it was too painful to sleep on anything else. Family members including her mother, father, and ex-husband helped as much as they could, sometimes lifting Terri off the mat when she could not get up on her own. She hated feeling like she was putting out her family with all the help they provided.

"My condition was making my kids sad," Terri recalls. "They'd say, 'let's not play basketball while Mom is up.' They saw me in pain but knew how
much I missed playing with them."

Dr. Frank eventually performed an anterior/posterior lumbar fusion surgery that took several hours, and he stayed in constant contact with her parents, who waited while their daughter was being operated on. "He was dealing with my dad, now, who told him, 'She's an athlete. You've got to make her better.'"

Terri recalls being scared when she came out of surgery, but felt well cared for at the hospital. "(MOSH) was a terrific hospital," she says. "Everyone was so friendly. "

Even better, the incision on her back was only one inch long. "When I came to see Terri late in the afternoon on the day of surgery, I knew she had
already made progress," recalls Dr. Frank. "She was sitting upright, unsupported, bearing full weight on her spine without pain. The surgical pain was there, of course, but that's a different kind of pain, and she could tell the difference." Once the pain of surgery went away, Terri had a quick recovery.

Terri reflected on the success of her November 2014 surgery. "By December 4, I was medication free," she says. "I recovered well because I did the PT three days a week. I followed the program because I had to get better. I know I just didn't want to go back on medication or re-injure myself. Even now, I may need to go to PT to stretch it out, but the pain that I experienced is gone, and my movement is back."

While Terri no longer participates in athletics in which she can't predict the outcomes – like kickboxing or backyard football scrimmages – she's
back in the batting cage, back at work, and back to her active lifestyle.

"It's amazing how the work we all do affects so many lives, directly and indirectly," says Dr. Frank.

"I can smile," says Terri. "I'm happy. My kids are happy. I count my blessings every day. I really think I had the best doctor to work with. Now that I'm at the first-year anniversary of my surgery, I'm going to celebrate."

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