May 17, 2017

Complex back surgery gives patient a new life

Neck, Back and Spine | Patient Stories

This post is part of The Ultimate Guide to Back Pain Relief

Back pain and a life of misery

Imagine living your life in so much pain that you dread going to lay in your bed at night. You walk around hunched over all day and you are barely able to breathe. For nearly 22 years, this was Marlene Shafer’s reality.

Her back was causing her so much pain that she was unable to stand up straight, which caused a hump to form in her back. The development of the hump hunched Marlene over and made it very difficult for her to breathe.

Going to bed at night provided no relief either. Aside from tossing and turning every night while she tried to sleep, she also had to physically get up and move around her house to try and relieve the pain that was radiating throughout her entire body.

Furthermore, Marlene was unable to do the things in life that brought her joy.

“I absolutely love mowing the lawn and getting out in the garden,” said Marlene. “But the pain was too much, that I actually started to dread those activities.”

Marlene was no stranger to surgery. In the past she underwent a few back surgeries at another orthopedic practice but it brought her no relief. She thought there were no other options for her and that the pain was just something she needed to live with as she refused to take any pain pills.

Should I see a Spine Surgeon or Physiatrist

After having a total knee replacement, her physician urged her to make an appointment with a spine surgeon at OrthoIndy. Desperate for one last hope to get rid of the pain Marlene met Dr. Kevin O’Neill, an OrthoIndy spine surgeon.

“Marlene had a very complicated problem. From her previous surgeries and some additional degeneration of her spine, she was simply not able to stand up straight. This is an incredibly painful way to live,” said Dr. O’Neill. “She had tried nearly everything to decrease her pain, but she was just not seeing any improvement. I explained that surgery was an option, but that it would be a complex surgery that would involve cutting the spine in half and realigning it to allow her to stand up straight again.”

One last hope – back surgery

Although scared of having another surgery and still finding no relief, Marlene was confident in Dr. O’Neill and decided to give surgery one last chance.

“Dr. O’Neill was personable, knowledgeable and always put a smile on my face,” said Marlene. “No matter what question I asked and no matter how stupid I sounded, he always answered me and never made me feel bad for asking.”

In September 2016, Marlene was ready for surgery.

“Marlene underwent a procedure called a pedicle subtraction osteotomy, which is when a wedge of bone is removed from the spinal column to allow a change in alignment. The spine is then fused in the improved position, which in her case involved most of her thoracic and lumbar spine,” said Dr. O’Neill.

The type of surgery that Marlene underwent can be anywhere from 6 to 12 hours, depending on each patient’s unique situation; such as whether they have had a previous surgery, if they have pressure on the nerves or spinal cord, or the extent of the fusion required.

“Despite having a major surgery, Marlene always kept a positive outlook and attitude,” said Dr. O’Neill. “She is incredibly motivated to keep getting better, which is making a huge difference for her.”

There are relatively high risks associated with these complex spine corrections like Marlene’s.

“Fortunately, a majority of these complications can be corrected and treated without long-term consequences. The high risk nature of these operations makes it more important than ever to have a good relationship with patients and their family prior to surgery,” said Dr. O’Neill. “As much as we discuss things, I think at the end of the day there is a huge amount of trust required that I’m going to do everything possible to give them the best outcome possible.”

Although there are risks, the benefit of performing this type of surgery is that it corrects the alignment of the spine. When patients are stuck in a position that does not allow them to stand upright, surgery is the only effective long-term solution for patients. The transformation that people can make following surgery is nothing short of remarkable.

Back surgery recovery

Although Marlene is still recuperating and taking it easy, she is ecstatic at how much better she already feels.

“My pain level is now at a three, compared to a 10 or more before surgery,” said Marlene. “I can finally take deep breaths again, I am taller because I can stand up straight again and I am so much happier.”

Marlene’s family is also thrilled now that she has had surgery. Marlene plans to get back to the yard work this summer, mow the lawn without pain and visit her family in Florida for a vacation.

“I can’t say enough good things about Dr. O’Neill and OrthoIndy. Everyone there is helpful, nice and simply great people,” said Marlene. “Whenever I hear about someone experiencing back pain I immediately recommend Dr. O’Neill. He gave me my life back.”

To schedule an appointment with Dr. O’Neill, please call 317.802.2429 or learn more about OrthoIndy Spine.

The Ultimate Guide to Back Pain Relief cover

The Ultimate Guide to Back Pain Relief

Find out what's causing your back pain and how you can treat it with OrthoIndy's ultimate guide to healing back pain.

Read the guide

Megan Golden

By Megan Golden

Megan is the current marketing specialist for OrthoIndy. Megan graduated from Ball State University in 2012 with a bachelor’s degree in public relations and advertising and a communications studies minor and has been with OrthoIndy since then.

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