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"It is one year out from surgery, and I have absolutely no pain and don’t even take an occasional Advil. " Susan M. Bi-Coastal Adventurer


In the winter of 2004 I was skiing off trail on a very steep terrain when I hit ice, which sent me tumbling backwards down the mountain and eventually hitting a small tree.  I was airlifted off the mountain and treated for injuries to my chest and a concussion. When I returned home from my ski trip, I resumed all my usual activities- biking, walking, swimming, kayaking, and taking care of the house and my family. Gradually, though, my back began feeling very painful, and I was unable to continue certain exercises. I went to a doctor who told me my symptoms were primarily due to arthritis. I had some improvement in my pain after trying anti-inflammatory medication, injections, and physical therapy; eventually I was able to return to my active lifestyle.

In the spring of 2011, I participated in a 62-mile hike in D.C., and around the 22nd mile I had excruciating pain in my back.  I had to stop the hike. I resumed conservative treatments of medications, physical therapy, and rest; nothing seemed to relieve my discomfort. At this point, I began considering surgical options. I sought opinions from three surgeons before meeting my surgeon at Virginia Spine Institute. He provided me with the most thorough consultation based on x-rays, surveys, and examinations. His advice was to offer me the best surgical option that would return me to the active life I’d always been able to enjoy.

Based on my x-rays & MRI, I was diagnosed with spondylolisthesis at both L3/L4 and L4/L5 levels with an obvious scoliosis and left leaning posture.  The MRI scan showed severe spinal stenosis at the areas of spondylolisthesis, as well as compression of the exiting nerve roots. A three-disc fusion was recommended and surgery was set.

Approaching the date of my surgery, I was pretty apprehensive about the lengthy procedure, but I took my surgeons advice and continued to exercise as much as was possible until the operation. In 2012, I underwent a TLIF (transforaminal lumbar interbody fusion) at L2/L3, L3/L4, and L4/L5.

During my recovery in the hospital, I wasn’t in any particularly bad pain. I was able to get up and do laps around the hospital floor almost immediately.  Once I was back home, I was able to go out for walks in the neighborhood and then go back to my gym at just two weeks after surgery.  I gained back my lost two inches, skied this winter, went kayaking on Puget Sound, enjoying numerous walks, and back doing boot camps, stretch classes, etc.

While I still think surgery or any invasive procedure should be a last resort, it should be an option to consider for anyone in enormous pain or whose activities have been sorely reduced due to pain.  And don’t wait too long to consult with an expert.

It is one year out from surgery, and I have absolutely no pain and don’t even take an occasional Advil.  We just moved from the east coast to the west coast, packing up our house of 30 years.  For four months I was lifting boxes (carefully) and reaching into the far recesses of the house; all with no ill effects.

This surgery was nothing short of miraculous.

- Susan M.