October 7, 2019

A patient gets her life back after a complex spine surgery and spinal fusion

Neck, Back and Spine | Patient Stories

THIS POST IS PART OF THE ULTIMATE GUIDE TO BACK PAIN RELIEF

Celeste Grubbs is no stranger to spine surgery. In 2012, she was on disability after having her third cervical spine (neck) surgery due to degenerative disc disease, scoliosis and kyphosis.

Nonetheless, she continued volunteering at a hippotherapy barn, where she helped kids with therapeutic horseback riding, and also continued working at a part time job. Unfortunately, both of these activities eventually became too hard to keep up with because of her pain.

It got to the point where Celeste no longer wanted to spend time with her family or friends because she was feeling so down. “I pretty much only did what I absolutely had to do, including picking up groceries, doing laundry and cleaning,” said Celeste.

Celeste returned to her spine surgeon in Louisville because she continued to have severe pain and her head continued to tip forward on her chest. After confronting her previous surgeon about her need to get help, Celeste remembers him saying “there is no one in Louisville who could help you.”

Celeste began her search for a new doctor. Many spine surgeons wouldn’t take her case because of the complexity involved. One surgeon eventually recommended going to see Dr. Kevin O’Neill and told her that he was at Vanderbilt University in Nashville, TN.

Celeste was concerned about being able to get to Nashville but did some research on Dr. O’Neill and found that he had moved his practice to OrthoIndy and was much closer.

“The light bulb went off and I realized this doctor is in Indianapolis, not Vanderbilt, which is right up the road from Louisville,” said Celeste. “I would have done cartwheels if I was physically able.”

Celeste knew Dr. O’Neill was her answer. “As I read about him, I realized that everything he does is what I needed,” said Celeste. “It was a Sunday, and I remember feeling that God was telling me this was the doctor for me. I called my cousin and neighbor right away and told them I have found the doctor who was going to help me.”

Meeting Dr. O’Neill

“You walk in the door and he is efficient, friendly, caring and kind,” said Celeste. “I was absolutely amazed because this is not what I was used to.”

Dr. O’Neill knew surgery was necessary. “Celeste had a fairly complicated situation,” said Dr. O’Neill. “From her previous surgeries, the bones had not healed, the implants had completely failed and her head was literally falling forward on her chest. It was pretty clear that only surgery was going to be able to help her.”

Dr. O’Neill was able to find a solution when other surgeons couldn’t. “Unfortunately, it’s not uncommon that a situation gets complicated and a patient is told there are no surgical options left,” said Dr. O’Neill. “Many surgeons are not trained, experienced or comfortable in dealing with a more complicated spine surgery. Doing this more complicated work is something I take pride in and feel like I can really help people with limited options left.”

Spinal fusion and osteotomy surgery

Within five weeks of contacting Dr. O’Neill’s office at OrthoIndy, Celeste had the surgery that she had been trying to get since June 2018.

Dr. O’Neill knew what needed to be done. “In principle, the goals of her surgery were relatively easy to understand; I had to remove the loose and broken implants, fix the areas that had not healed and correct her spine alignment,” said Dr. O’Neill. “To correct her head from falling forward, the bones need to be cut in multiple places, which is called an osteotomy.”

Dr. O’Neill was able to go through with his original surgical plan. “For complicated surgeries, you don’t just have one plan and hope it’s enough,” said Dr. O’Neill. “You have to go in to surgery with multiple options on the table. I was actually prepared to perform a much more extensive osteotomy, but fortunately was able to avoid this and still accomplish all the goals of the surgery.”

How long does it take to heal from a complex spine surgery?

Dr. O’Neill knew Celeste’s recovery would require a longer healing time. “Bigger surgeries, like the one Celeste had, can take a significant amount of time to recover from. I always tell patients to expect to invest a year towards continued improvement following the surgery,” said Dr. O’Neill. “Obviously there is the initial surgical pain that goes away the fastest. Beyond that, it just takes the body time to adjust to such a dramatic change in their body.”

Life after spinal fusion and osteotomy surgery

It has been a few months since surgery. “I feel absolutely wonderful compared to how I felt before surgery,” said Celeste. “I have soreness from surgery, but not the chronic, debilitating back pain I felt before. I no longer have that pain at all. I feel like a new person.”

Dr. O’Neill is also pleased with Celeste’s results. “Celeste has done really well with her recovery and continues to improve,” said Dr. O’Neill. “Throughout her recovery period, she has always kept a positive attitude, which can make a huge difference. It’s just amazing to see her; she looks like a completely new person!”

In the future, Celeste hopes to volunteer again and potentially get another part time job. “I don’t know how you say thank you to a doctor that has literally given you your life back,” said Celeste. “I can’t say it enough as the tears of joy and gratitude are running down my face.”

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

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Julia Steele

By Julia Steele

Julia was the 2019 summer marketing intern at OrthoIndy. Julia is working on a bachelor’s degree in public relations, a minor in communication studies, and a concentration in media analytics at Ball State University. Julia will graduate May 2020.

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