Meet Helen who is “back in the saddle” after spine surgery!
08.22.2022

Helen Roberts was a 64-year-old spine patient at Carolina NeuroSurgery & Spine Associates who first sought care in the fall of 2021. Reflecting on life before surgery, she remembers spending time during Halloween at her neighbor’s house, right across the street, when she couldn’t walk back to her house without falling. Helen had been experiencing pain in her lower back on and off for a few years.

Up to that point, Helen had made a number of adjustments to her daily life to deal with the chronic back pain. She took over-the-counter pain medicine and started to figure out positions that made it feel better or worse. She worried before events about how she would handle the pain. 

“If we planned to attend a festival, I would worry for a week beforehand that I wouldn’t be able to walk,” Helen said. “My leg would just give out. It was really bizarre.” 

After seeking help, the care team at Carolina NeuroSurgery & Spine Associates tried nonoperative care. For Helen, these more conservative treatments such as a cortisone shot weren't enough to ease her pain. After trying a nonoperative approach, Helen’s care team discussed further treatment options. After x-rays and an MRI were taken, the recommendation was that surgical intervention was necessary to achieve the lasting results Helen desired. Helen agreed, as she hoped this would give her the ability to move on with her life and say goodbye to this debilitating pain she had been experiencing.

Neurosurgeon Christopher M. Holland, MD, PhD, performed the surgery: a laminectomy and a minimally invasive transforaminal lumbar interbody fusion in Helen’s lower back. He used a bone graft to fuse the affected areas of her spine.

For some patients, it can take up to 12 months to feel pain relief from this kind of surgery. According to Helen, her relief was pretty immediate, and she was able to stand up and walk with no pain the day after her surgery. While the week of recovery immediately after the surgery was challenging, Helen said it was a small price to pay considering how it has paid off today!

A pivotal component of a spine surgical patient's recovery is physical therapy. Fortunately, at Carolina NeuroSurgery & Spine Associates, customized on-site physical therapy is offered in many office locations. 

Helen benefited from this convenient service and continuity of care. She had a session with her physical therapist in the same office as she was used to seeing Dr. Holland. Dr. Holland and his clinical team were able to communicate Helen’s unique needs and preferences for her physical therapy care plan. The on-site physical therapists led her through custom exercises to strengthen her core, giving her the tools and education to continue those same exercises in the comfort of her home. 

Getting “Back in the Saddle”

Post surgery, and with the help of physical therapy exercises, Helen found that she was able to adopt hobbies and an active lifestyle quicker than she had expected. 

“I can barely believe it, but I am walking two miles a day now and hope to work up to four!” Helen said. “There is some discomfort that comes and goes, but I do not experience any pain like before surgery–it’s just amazing.” 

In addition to walking every day, Helen has been thrilled to add horseback riding back in her life. She has had a love for horses and enjoys new challenges. She previously was taking horseback riding lessons prior to her debilitating back pain, but had to stop as it was just too painful to enjoy. 

Now, post surgery, she has been able to “get back in the saddle,” literally and figuratively. She is even able to play on the floor or in the back yard with her grandkids–a priceless reward for her surgical spine journey.

It Was a Team Effort

“The physicians, physician assistants, nurses, and support staff at Carolina NeuroSurgery & Spine Associates were extremely kind, helpful, and efficient,” Helen recalled. “I experienced timely, helpful answers to my questions, and clinicians who listened to what I had to say.”

“They addressed my concerns along the way. It’s hard to find the words, but I am so grateful. I am sharing my story so that others don’t delay addressing their own pain that may keep them from living life to the fullest.”

Helen has a unique understanding of what quality patient care means, as she herself is a retired Intensive Care Unit nurse. She said, “I am intimately aware of what it takes to give patients efficient, thorough treatment that is unique to each person,” from years spent caring for others at the bedside. 

This time it was her turn to be the recipient of that close attention, compassion, and life-changing care. 

Does Helen’s Story Sound Familiar? 

Are you or someone you love experiencing debilitating neck or back pain? If this story resonated with you, it may be time to address the pain that is holding you back. Call our office or click to request an appointment online! 


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