I had Spondylolisthesis (L4-L5 level), or slippage of a vertebrae and degenerative disc disease. Before this, I never had back pain or obvious symptoms until about 10 years ago when I first experienced significant nerve pain. The pain radiated to the back of my thighs and legs while walking (due to impinged nerve root). I initially tried some nonsurgical treatments including physical therapy with traction, chiropractic care and bracing. After those conservative treatments failed, I underwent a minimally invasive partial hemilaminotomy (they removed bone of the vertebrae to allow more space for the nerve) in one of the hospitals in the greater Washington D.C. area in 2010. I refused to undergo a recommended spinal fusion because I was scared.
The decompression of the nerve root worked (I thought) and for about five years I lived with no major leg pain. Unfortunately, I still had Spondylolisthesis and my spine wasn’t stable. In fact, the slippage had become severe grade and pain had returned. Again, I started some conservative treatments like injections and pain medications this time.
I love to cook and select ingredients for the next experimental recipe. However, I hated grocery shopping. Walking on a concrete floor would flare up my nerve and the pain in the left leg became unbearable at times.
The first surgery wasn’t enough and I knew I needed a lumbar fusion with stabilization, but I was scared. After researching and meeting with several surgeons in the area, I had so many doubts and I was disappointed with their suggestions. All of them considered posterior (back) approach with a traditional open incision and bone grafts only. As an active (and the least patient) person with extended family and a career to take care of, I couldn’t even imagine six months or longer for recovery. Then I saw Virginia Spine Institute featured in an airline magazine.
I underwent robot-guided 1-disc Anterior Lumbar Interbody Fusion (ALIF) with staged Lumbar Posterior Instrumented Fusion in early November 2018. I have no pain and I returned to work full time in early February 2019 just three months after spinal fusion surgery. I am back doing long distance international travel with no back problems. There is so much that has improved and I am so grateful. I am enjoying pain free life! In fact, one of my colleagues accused me of faking my injury. They couldn’t believe I had a spinal fusion (I took it as a compliment).
My experience at Virginia Spine Institute was incredible and very different from other practices.
They wanted to help! They took time and they answered all my questions. I had the most thorough examination ever, including testing to gain a nerve damage baseline and X-rays of the entire length of the spine. I’ve also learned about my spinal lordosis (swayback). My implant, or intervertebral cage was not a standard issue. They 3D printed it!
Many thanks to Tracy Perkins, Physician Assistant, who gave me the most compassionate hug during my prep-operative appointment (did I mention I was scared).