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'I can do things again'
Neck surgery eases patient's pain
|Erin Wooten used to be a hiker, a biker and
horseback rider who ran five miles a day
and took a two-week scuba diving vacation at
least twice a year.
In recent years, however, injuries kept her on the sideline.
“My horse is sitting in the pasture,” she said.
However, the 53-year-old recently found relief from the pain in her neck and arms after having a new type of neck surgery done by Thomas Spagnolia, MD, Sanford Health neurosurgeon.
She had numbness in her arms extending to her fingers and pain in the neck extending between her shoulder blades.
“It was annoying,” she said. “I was having spastic trembling of my hands. I’d be grasping an object, and I’d get that spastic trembling and almost literally drop what I had in my hand.”
She’d already had a disc removed and the bones fused together—a procedure called a fusion—after a 1995 car accident. But the disc below the fusion was breaking down, Dr. Spagnolia said, causing her pain, numbness and tingling.
Dr. Spagnolia didn’t think it was a good idea to do another fusion because it “probably wouldn’t take,”Wooten said.
Erin Wooten is thankful she can lift weights again following neck surgery at Sanford Health.
Thomas Spagnolia, MD
Traditionally, surgeons will do a fusion,
removing the offending disc and fusing the bones
together, but Dr. Spagnolia said the discs above
and below the fusion wear out much faster. Often, patients are left with severely constricted range of motion in their
neck. Spagnolia said artificial discs are a good alternative for patients who
primarily have arm and hand neuropathy, meaning the nerves are involved.
In Wooten’s case, Spagnolia thought it best to replace a disc below a two-level fusion. Surgeons have been doing single-level fusions for years, but it’s unusual to do multiple levels.
Wooten’s neck ended up being in worse shape than the MRI indicated, she said. After her surgery in September 2010, though, she immediately could feel the difference. The numbness was gone, and she had full range of motion in her neck.
“I can move my head, and I can move my neck. I don’t have the pain, the numbness,”Wooten said. “I have strength back in my hands. If I grab your hand now, I’ve got ya. I’ve got that power back.”
She’s begun lifting weights, working on her upper body, core, neck and arms. She is restricted from wearing a helmet—so no more motorcycling.
“It’s actually given me something to do,” she said. “Now I can do things again.”
She has nothing but praise for Dr. Spagnolia, who has been doing anterior neck surgery for 20 years.
“He is such a talented surgeon, and he knows what he’s talking about,” she said. “You don’t hear surgeons say this a lot, (but) he said it took eight years to learn how to do surgery and 20 years to learn when not to. His honesty was the most heartening to me. When he said that, I thought, 'I’m in the right place here'.”
Click here for more information on Sanford's’s neurosurgery department.