As she approaches her 84th birthday, Lee exercises daily, and in her own words, “feels wonderful.” It took a while for this great grandmother of eight to feel this way.
About 12 years ago, Lee retired from her job at the controller’s office of her town to focus on family. Not long after, Lee began experiencing back and leg pain that felt worse each day.
After going to a pain management specialist and a chiropractor, and trying various treatments---including physical therapy and epidural steroid injections--she still found no relief from the pain. Eventually, Lee could not stand up without being in severe pain and she had difficulty walking.
Next stop: A spine specialist
It was time for Lee to see a spine specialist. A trusted friend recommended she make an appointment with Simcha Weller, MD, at Tufts Medical Center in Boston.
Dr. Weller, a spine specialist and neurosurgeon in the Spine Center at Tufts MC, thoroughly evaluated Lee. After examining her and studying the images of her spine, including X-rays and magnetic resonance imaging (MRIs) scans, Dr. Weller concluded that Lee had lumbar spinal stenosis and spondylolisthesis. Spinal stenosis is a common degenerative condition in older adults and often occurs with spondylolisthesis, a condition in which there is slippage between the spinal vertebrae.
He explained to Lee that spinal stenosis is usually progressive, might progress faster in some people than others, and it doesn’t go away. If left untreated, it could result in serious functional disability.
“Lee had already tried physical therapy and the other standard non-operative treatments that are recommended for patients, yet her symptoms of spinal stenosis still progressed to the point where she was in great discomfort,” said Dr. Weller. “She hadn’t responded to anything we routinely try to effectively control the pain that spinal stenosis causes.”
At this point, because the other options had not helped, Dr. Weller suggested that Lee undergo minimally invasive spinal decompression and fusion surgery. He explained the procedure and recovery to Lee and her children.
First, Dr. Weller would remove bone and soft tissue from around the delicate nerves located inside her spinal canal in order to relieve nerve compression causing her leg pain. In order to restore stability to Lee’s spine, he would then insert a metallic device that works like an internal brace to keep the bones in her back in the correct position. This would help eliminate the pain when she moved. Dr. Weller was confident he could help Lee.
“I didn’t expect to hear I needed surgery, but I couldn’t wait to feel better, get back to church, do my own food shopping, and--most of all-- enjoy my children, grandchildren and great grandchildren,” said Lee. “Dr. Weller explained the procedure so well and why I would benefit from it, so we went ahead and scheduled it.”
Lee said that after surgery, while still in the recovery room, Dr. Weller and his Tufts MC team came in to check on her, explain how the surgery went and what to expect next. They kept her informed and made her feel comfortable.
Back on her feet
“The surgery went great and the nurses were wonderful,” Lee recalled. “My kids and I were so impressed with the exceptional care I received at Tufts.”
Lee was transferred to a rehabilitation facility for a few weeks, and released with instructions to go to out-patient physical therapy and follow up appointments with Dr. Weller.
Today, she is pain free and even has good posture. A friend recently diagnosed with spinal stenosis called Lee to ask her opinion about the surgery.
“I’m the poster child for spinal stenosis surgery,” she said. “I tell everyone to go to Tufts for this surgery, you won’t regret it.”
The exceptional care she received continued after her surgery and follow up appointments with Dr. Weller.
Then, the hips
Just a few months after her spinal stenosis surgery, Lee found out she would need hip replacement surgery. Her orthopedic surgeon at MelroseWakefield Hospital was in close communication with Dr. Weller at Tufts MC while they waited for Lee’s back to heal enough to have the next surgery.
Lee learned she could actually have the hip replacement surgery at MelroseWakefield Hospital, right near her home. Her follow-up appointments and physical therapy would take place in her community, too.
“We finally got the okay from Dr. Weller that I could have my hips replaced,” recalled Lee. “I had my hip surgeries, one hip and then the other, went through rehab and physical therapy again, and started to reclaim my life.”
Lee says she now has a new lease on life. She credits this to a daily exercise routine of walking 60 laps inside her house and on her treadmill, doing physical therapy--exercises--and the amazing medical care she received by Wellforce partners Tufts MC and MelroseWakefield Hospital.