October 7, 2019

After past surgical treatment for scoliosis failed, one patient found new hope

Neck, Back and Spine | Patient Stories


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

But even after her surgeries, Celeste still suffered from scoliosis pain, and her head tipped forward on her chest.

While her original spine surgeon told her he could do nothing, Celeste didn’t lose hope.

Read on to learn how she found Dr. O’Neill and got the complex spine surgery and spinal fusion that would give her her life back.

Never losing hope

Despite her surgeries, Celeste 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 had to do, including picking up groceries, doing laundry and cleaning,” Celeste says.

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 seeing Dr. Kevin O’Neill and told her that he was at Vanderbilt University in Nashville, TN.

Celeste was concerned about getting to Nashville but researched Dr. O’Neill and found that he had moved his practice to OrthoIndy, which 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,” Celeste says. “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,” Celeste says.

“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 had found the doctor who was going to help me.”

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Meeting Dr. O’Neill

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

Dr. O’Neill knew spinal fusion surgery was necessary. “Celeste had a fairly complicated situation,” Dr. O’Neill says. “From her previous surgeries, the bones had not healed, the implants had completely failed, and her head was 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,” Dr. O’Neill says.

“Many surgeons are not trained, experienced or comfortable in dealing with more complicated spine surgery. Doing this more complicated work is something I take pride in, and I feel like I can really help people with limited options left.”

Learn more about OrthoIndy spine treatments

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,” Dr. O’Neill says.

“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,” Dr. O’Neill says.

“You have to go into surgery with multiple options on the table. I was prepared to perform a much more extensive osteotomy, but fortunately was able to avoid this and still accomplish all the goals of the surgery.”

Watch Dr. Schwartz perform a spinal fusion (warning: graphic content)

How long does it take to heal from surgical treatment for scoliosis and other spine conditions?

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,” Dr. O’Neill says. “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.”

Learn about the benefits of physical therapy after spinal fusion

Life after spinal fusion and osteotomy surgery

It has been a few months since Celeste’s spinal fusion surgery. “I feel wonderful compared to how I felt before surgery,” Celeste says. “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 well with her recovery and continues to improve,” Dr. O’Neill says. “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 given you your life back,” Celeste says. “I can’t say it enough as the tears of joy and gratitude are running down my face.”

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