I was always active when I was younger -- I played soccer, basketball and softball throughout high school and I was a skilled martial artist. In college, I cheered for basketball, played intramural softball, and taught women’s self-defense and spinning classes at the college gym. I was also quite the outdoor enthusiast (and still am). I grew up attending and working at summer camps and outdoor education centers leading activities like backpacking, white water rafting, overnight campouts, and rock climbing among others. I was definitely the type of person who “played hard” and would “walk off” any aches, soreness, or pain. In 2000, however, I learned that I had Degenerative Disc Disease affecting the lower part of my spine (L1-L5). At the time all of the discs were showing deterioration and abnormalities but L5 had ruptured and L4 was bulging which required immediate attention. I underwent a minor surgery in 2000 to mend the ruptured disc, which only alleviated some of the pain I was experiencing in my legs and lower back.
Following that surgery I always had some chronic pain and recurring issues such as back spasms, numbness, swelling, etc. I was regularly in and out of the doctor’s office for epidural steroid injections, Astym Therapy, physical therapy and prescription after prescription. It seemed like a never-ending cycle of temporary fixes. I was putting the rest of my life on the back burner because relieving the pain was my top priority. Everyday activities were becoming grueling challenges--I couldn’t walk for more than 30-45 minutes before the pain would radiate from my back into my hips and left leg. I couldn’t ride in the car for more than 45-60 minutes. This started to seriously restrict where I could go and what I could do.
"It seemed like a never-ending cycle of temporary fixes. I couldn’t continue to live like that as it wasn’t living."
We began searching for a solution to the overarching diagnosis. I was turned down by more doctors and potential procedures than I can count because I was told my particular situation was too complicated, my situation would require an advanced surgical procedure that wasn’t accessible to me, or I was too young for an extensive fusion. I was told at one point that there wasn’t an option for “fixing” my structural needs at this time! We even started exploring options in the UK. In 2010, I was diagnosed with Major Depressive Disorder because I started feeling like I would never find an end to the pain, discomfort, and challenges caused by the Degenerative Disc Disease. I had begun losing hope that I could be active and happy and started believing that I was meant to be miserable. The pain is really consuming.
11 years after my first surgery and initial diagnosis, we found Virginia Spine Institute. During my initial consultation, I almost didn’t believe it when I heard “we can help you,” because I was so accustomed to being turned down. The VSI team made me feel like a real person, like family and someone they care about and wanted to help, which was not the case in many situations for me during the 11 years I was searching.
We eventually decided on a lumbar spinal fusion ‘with a twist’. The VSI team was fantastic -- they really did everything they could to make sure I understood the procedure, the recovery, and how to prepare for this life-changing event. They were even able to put me in touch with another patient who had experienced a successful surgery five years earlier and it was so reassuring to hear how her life had changed for the better. I knew I would be in good hands too. I underwent two surgical procedures (one anterior and one posterior) that fused my L1-L5 using bone graft and pedicle screws and rods made of titanium.
I’m a completely different person since my surgery! I have truly been given a second chance at life. I have a new outlook and approach to living. I’ve changed careers and became a health & fitness coach at Fused2Fitness and I am also an advocate for others who are suffering from poor spinal health. I realized how important it can be to have a support partner to connect with during the recovery process and this is my chance to give back. Friends and family are constantly telling me how much happier I am and that my personality really sparkles now. I never knew I could feel this good and be this happy. VSI even helped me change my nutrition habits by suggesting the “Better Baby Book”. After three miscarriages my husband and I are expecting our first child in 2016! None of this would have been possible without the amazing talent and support of VSI. My strength, power, range of motion, and endurance has become enhanced because I am pain free and able to live my life to the fullest.
My advice: commit, don't quit!
This has become my mantra. It is discouraging to go from doctor to doctor trying various non-surgical treatments that only temporarily relieve your symptoms. You deserve to be happy and healthy and you don’t have to go through it alone. Reach out to the team at VSI and find a supportive partner like me who can help you through the challenges!