Stephen Gabriel, M.D., remembers the shoulder discomfort coming “out of the blue” on a Wednesday back in February 2016. The pain gravitated to his neck and then escalated. By day three, he recalls, he couldn’t lift his arm.
When you’re an orthopedic surgeon, this is an especially troubling development. “I could probably gut it out through the pain, “says Dr. Gabriel, a general orthopedic surgeon at KSB Hospital in Dixon. “However, the loss of motor function was the biggest issue.”
A call to his friend and professional colleague, Rockford Spine Center Surgeon Fred Sweet, M.D., was the first step. They began with an MRI and knew immediately that surgery was the solution.
“Dr. Gabriel’s deltoid function had deteriorated quickly and he was unable to lift his arm to put on a surgical mask,” recalls Dr. Sweet. “I recommended a C4-C5 anterior cervical discectomy and fusion (ACDF).”
This procedure removes a herniated or degenerative disc in the neck. Surgeons typically make an incision in the throat area to reach the front of the spine and make the repair.
“It might have gotten better without doing the surgery but it might not have,” says Dr. Gabriel. “We needed to do it. I woke up from the surgery and the pain was gone.”
Today, six months later, his strength has returned to nearly 95 percent, he says, and he continues to do physical therapy.
“The progress was very quick and each day was a bit better,” says. Dr. Gabriel. “It was very surprising how quickly I was able to get back to work. I paced myself and was right back into it.”
Dr. Gabriel has been a colleague of Dr. Sweet’s for many years and guesses he’s referred more than 300 patients to him during that time. That relationship brought him peace of mind when he was facing surgery.
“Dr. Sweet is a professional and I really trust him,” says Dr. Gabriel. “I was very confident when I called him and did not hesitate to follow his recommendations.”
While some patients are often reluctant to visit a surgeon, Dr. Sweet says surgery is often the last thing he’s considering when working with a patient.
“I try first to understand who they are, how their condition or disease affects them and what the best way is to help them,” he says. “I explain their options and sometimes surgery is one of them. Careful selection is the key to good results.”
Dr. Sweet completed the surgery on a Tuesday and Dr. Gabriel was back at work that Thursday, seeing patients, and doing surgery on Friday.
“I was back at it very quickly and it was very fortunate that I didn’t need a more significant procedure,” he says. “I was also lucky to have the motor deficit affect my shoulder and not my hand. I saw patients three days later and was back in the OR as a surgeon, not a patient.”
Joe Altenhoff was no stranger to the pain. And, he’ll tell you, he’d even become used to it.
Active and in good physical shape, he’d altered his lifestyle in an effort to cope with the nagging irritation in his back that had lasted more than a decade. However, for the owner and principal at Arc Design, an engineering firm in Rockford, there finally came a time when he reached his limit.
“I lived with the pain for a long time,” says Altenhoff. “But when the pain escalated and my leg started to go numb, that’s when I knew I had to do something.”
That something turned into a lot of things. He’d tried chiropractic treatments, anti-inflammatories, along with a number of other therapies and exercises. Nothing worked.
A visit to spine surgeon Christopher Sliva, M.D., at Rockford Spine Center, led to the imposing-sounding diagnosis of isthmic spondylolisthesis, more commonly understood as a slipped vertebrae.
“Joe’s symptoms had progressively worsened,” says Dr. Sliva. “He was dealing with buttock, thigh and calf pain with numbness and paraesthesia, or a ‘pins and needles’ sensation.”
More importantly, Dr. Sliva understood the impact the pain was having on Altenhoff’s life.
“The pain was really disabling to Joe,” Dr. Sliva says. “He had to modify his lifestyle quite substantially and he wanted something more definitive to be done about it.”
After exhausting a number of non-surgical options, it was clear that surgery was the solution. He and Dr. Sliva discussed the procedure and worked together to develop a plan.
“We empower our patients so they can choose their course of treatment and surgery is typically our last resort,” emphasizes Dr. Sliva. “We look at conservative treatment options and how pain is affecting a patient’s quality of life. Only about 10 percent of our patients end up needing surgery.”
Altenhoff is an engineer, a problem-solver by nature, and he was very involved in the process. He and Dr. Sliva looked at the scans and the models of the spine to understand what was wrong.
“I was thinking about alternative ways to fix it,” he recalls. “However, I knew it was complicated and that it wasn’t going to go away and would most likely get worse. I had a lot of confidence in Dr. Sliva going into the surgery and I knew it had to get done.”
Working with Dr. Sliva and his team, Altenhoff was diligent in preparing for the procedure, known as a transforaminal lumbar fusion. The procedure involves removing a disc from between two vertebrae and then fusing the vertebrae to together. For the patient, the results can be remarkable.
“I woke up and instantly knew it was better,” remembers Altenhoff. “I could feel it right away and it was amazing. That was a start of a phenomenal recovery.”
A day after the procedure, he was doing occupational and physical therapy to jump start the recovery. Today, six months after the surgery, Altenhoff has resumed his active lifestyle. He’s made a few modifications but “nothing too radical,” as he puts it.
And, of course, the pain is no more.
“Having pain for so long, you take it for granted,” he says. “I’m grateful for Dr. Sliva and his team and so happy that the nuisance of having that daily pain is gone.”
Excruciating. That’s how Landi Miller describes the pain she was feeling on her right side, working down from her neck to her shoulder and into her right arm. This busy single mom with three kids and a job in the Winnebago County court system saw her life thrown into a tailspin when she was diagnosed with two herniated discs by her family practice physician.
“I was popping Advil non-stop and then had to switch to stronger medication,” she recalls. “That made me so tired I couldn’t do anything with my kids and it was affecting my job.”
Following the initial diagnosis in late 2014, her family physician referred her to Spine Surgeon Michael Roh, M.D., at Rockford Spine Center, who explained where the herniated discs were located and some treatment options, including surgery.
Patients have a very visceral reaction to their pain, says Dr. Roh. “When I meet with a patient, I pay close attention to both their non-verbal signs and the adjectives they use to describe their pain. What’s most telling is when a patient explains all the things that they can’t do because of their pain. It’s very emotional for them.”
In Landi’s case, the disc herniations were severe. Her first treatment was an epidural pain injection, followed by physical therapy. Neither brought her any relief.
“We tried the injection and then I did PT three times a week for a month but it didn’t help,” she says. “My right hand was going numb on a regular basis and when I dropped a cup of coffee because of that, I knew it was time to do something.”
She met with Dr. Roh again, who outlined the options for surgery. They chose a total disc replacement (TDR), which Dr. Roh has performed numerous times with very positive outcomes.
“A TDR can be very effective because it offers a shorter recovery time,” says Dr. Roh. “That’s important for all patients, obviously. However, for patients whose condition might be impacting their ability to work, it’s absolutely critical that they can return to their job in a timely manner.”
Landi remembers how “ready” she was to have the surgery and how excited she was to hear Dr. Roh tell her that when she awoke, the pain would be gone.
“It was just crazy how that worked,” she says. “He said I would have instant pain relief and it was immediately gone. I had the surgery on a Wednesday and was back to work on Monday.”
Landi followed her doctor’s orders and worked hard to keep her sutures and the incision clean, which led to a full and uneventful recovery. Today, about a year after the surgery, she tells people that if they have this kind of severe pain to get it checked out right away.
“It’s amazing how my life changed,” Landi says. “I’m back to being the mom I was before I was in so much pain. I can’t say enough about Dr. Roh and his team. They were just amazing.”
Rusty Hayes knows back pain. A former football player who has always lived a vigorous and active lifestyle, he’s had surgeries in the past to repair spine and disc issues. This time was different.
Working on his backyard deck last summer, he stood up and his back “seized up.” He couldn’t walk. For the Senior Pastor at First Free Rockford, this was a serious and unwelcome interruption to his ministry and his life that required immediate action.
A visit to his primary care physician, followed by consultations from both a pain management therapist and orthopedic surgeon, showed the severity of the injury. The diagnosis? Recurrent disc herniations with radiating pain, numbness and tingling, along with severe and intractable back and leg pain.
Unfortunately, physical therapy, pain medication and even electrical stimulation from a TENS unit brought no relief. A referral to Rockford Spine Center brought Hayes to spine surgeon Christopher Sliva, M.D.
“Seeing Rusty for the first time, it was clear he was suffering,” recalls Dr. Sliva. “He had difficulty even walking across the room before he had to stop and rest.”
The solution? Expedited surgery.
“From my first encounter with Dr. Sliva, I could tell that I was at a different place than what I’d experienced before,” Hayes recalls. “They have a tremendous team and it’s such an impressive facility. They spent time with my wife and me talking about the procedure and making a plan.”
A week later, Dr. Sliva and his team performed a transforaminal lumbar fusion on Hayes. The procedure removed two discs from between the vertebrae and then fused the vertebrae together, while “installing” two rods to stabilize the spine.
“Immediate relief,” was what Hayes felt when he woke up and he recalls being able to stand up on the same day following the surgery. For his surgeon, that brought immediate satisfaction as well.
“It’s gratifying to see how surgery can relieve the pain they were once experiencing,” says Dr. Sliva. “I see them right after the surgery and they have that initial relief. Then, I’ll see them again post-surgery and they’re progressing and back to doing the things they were unable to do because of the pain. That’s very rewarding.”
Hayes’ recovery has progressed quickly and he’s back in the gym and weight training again. If you were walking alongside him, he’ll point out, you couldn’t tell that anything is different. And, most importantly, he’s back preaching again.
“I’ve had procedures in Dallas and in Boulder, Colorado,” says Hayes. “This was by far the best I’ve ever experienced. It’s high quality and nationally elite. It’s such a blessing to be able to get that kind of care here.”
Dr. Roh Speaks on Cervical Spine Surgery
Specialty Practice Expands Its Team of Professionals
Rockford Spine Center is a proud sponsor of the BFitTeens blog and website. Founded by a local teen, the website is a resource for teens to find positive and reliable health, fitness and financial advice. You can find it at www.bfitteens.com.
RSC physical therapist Kim Alexander and PT Aid Anna Hemlock are featured in the latest video segment sharing some tips on exercises and techniques to enhance your mobility and flexibility.
Rockford Spine Center Surgeon Fred Sweet, M.D., recently spoke with WREX-TV about the TFAR procedure he pioneered to correct severe spinal deformities. Check out the story and learn more about the procedure.
Rockford, Ill. (February 25, 2016) – Spine Surgeon Fred Sweet, M.D., of Rockford Spine Center, recently served as a visiting professor during Grand Rounds at the University of Pennsylvania Perelman School of Medicine in Philadelphia.
Dr. Sweet delivered a lecture on complex spine surgical reconstruction techniques, spinal deformity, and his new procedure, Transforaminal Anterior Release for the Treatment of Fixed Sagittal Imbalance and Segmental Kyphosis (TFAR). The TFAR surgical technique corrects a severely crooked spine and does so without cutting through bone, leading to less blood loss and shorter surgical times.
He also presented information on infection control in orthopedic and spine surgery, including the latest techniques and prevention measures. This was followed by a human anatomy (cadaver) workshop and demonstration on spine surgical techniques, including the TFAR technique.
The audience included surgeons, fellows, and resident physicians from the orthopedic and spine departments at the University of Pennsylvania. Dr. Sweet has previously been a visiting professor at Washington University in St. Louis; Rady Children's Hospital in San Diego; and has been invited to Stanford University, California and Leatherman Spine Center in Louisville.
About Rockford Spine Center
Rockford Spine Center, a facility dedicated exclusively to spinal care, has the combined expertise of three fellowship trained spine surgeons, and a Mayo Clinic-trained physiatrist.
Rockford Spine Center’s team of experts uses a multidisciplinary approach to treat spinal disorders, ranging from simple to the most complex cases. The team has an internationally recognized expertise in surgical and non-surgical spinal disorders. Rockford Spine Center has earned national recognition in Newsweek, named Castle Connolly Top Doctors; is ranked among the Top 50 Spine Surgery Practices to Know in Becker’s Spine Review; and has earned the Patients’ Choice and Compassionate Doctor awards since 2011. For more information about Rockford Spine Center, visit www.rockfordspine.com or find us on Facebook at www.facebook.com/RockfordSpine.
Rockford Spine Center surgeons Michael Roh, M.D., Christopher Sliva, M.D., and Fred Sweet, M.D., of Rockford Spine Center, were named in January to the list of Becker’s Spine Surgeons to Know 2016.
Congratulations to Rockford Spine Center’s Michael Roh, M.D., for being named one of 2016’s People to Watch by the Rockford Register Star. Read full story.
Dr. Roh Addresses Spine Injuries in Pediatric and Adult Athletes
Dr. Sweet Presents on TFAR Technique that Corrects Spinal Deformities.
The Rockford Spine Center (RSC) Physical Therapy Department is now offering dry needling therapy to patients.
Sweet One of Only 10 Surgeons Recognized in National Magazine
Rockford Spine Center Physical Therapist Kim Alexander recently spoke with WREX-TV about the importance of spine health as we begin to move into the winter months. Check out the story here and learn some quick tips to stay healthy this winter.
For the third time, Rockford Spine Center has been named to the Rockford IceHogs medical network. Dr. Michael Roh, Dr. Christopher Sliva, Dr. Fred Sweet and Dr. Marie Walker will serve as the team's orthopedic spine specialists.
Rockford Spine Center has once more been recognized for its excellence in providing patient care. Vitals as awarded the "On Time Doctor Award" which identifies doctors who best serve their patients while keeping the wait time brief.
For the fifth consecutive year, Vitals has recognized Rockford Spine Center’s four physicians with the distinguished “Most Compassionate Doctor Award,” indicating that all treat their patients with “the utmost kindness,” as determined by their overall outstanding and bedside manner ratings on vitals.com.
Rockford Spine Center is pleased to announce Spine Surgeons Dr. Michael Roh, Dr. Christopher Sliva and Dr. Fred Sweet have each been awarded the prestigious Vitals Top Ten Doctors awards for City and State for 2014. In addition, Dr. Marie Walker, Physiatrist, was awarded Top Ten Doctor for State for 2014.
Dr. Fred Sweet will be presenting at the 13th Annual Spine, Orthopedic and Pain Management-Driven ASC Conference, “The Future of Spine,” hosted by Becker’s Spine Review on Friday June 12. During his presentation, “Infection Control for Your Spine Center,” Dr. Sweet will focus on sharing some techniques that can help other surgeons and spine centers treat their patients.
Rockford Spine Center was featured in the May edition of Inside Healthcare. The article includes an interview with Dr. Sweet and focuses on Rockford Spine Center's efficient practice, revolutionary research and industry hurdles.
To read the article, click here.
Rockford Spine Center today announced that its partners are featured among the nation’s premier spine surgeons in the March 30, 2015 issue of Newsweek.