Tim Gaumond still remembers the back surgery he had when he was a young teenager. During a five-hour procedure, surgeons placed rods in his spine to correct a congenital alignment condition. A long hospital stay was followed by weeks in a body cast and then time in a wheelchair and on crutches. He missed months of the school year. While the surgery was successful, the recovery was an ordeal.
Zach Gough is no ordinary athlete. A competitive bodybuilder for the last 10 years, he knows just how critical it is to keep your body functioning properly.
Tyler Pratt knows how to find people. An executive recruiter who runs his own firm in Rockford, he specializes in selecting executive candidates for health care clients. That knowledge served him well when it came time to find a solution to his pain.
Rockford, Ill. (October 11, 2016) – Rockford Spine Center Physical Therapist Assistant Dana Smitley recently completed a continuing education course on identifying and implementing appropriate treatments and interventions for patients with vestibular disorders and balance dysfunctions.
The course, “Evaluation and Treatment of Patients with Dizziness and Balance Disorders: A Comprehensive Approach Through Vestibular Rehabilitation Therapy,” was presented by Saravanan Chockalingam, P.T., D.P.T., C.L.T., C.Y.T. He is a physical therapist specializing in vestibular disorders and a member of the Vestibular Disorders Association (VDA).
According to the VDA, 30 percent of people over the age of 65 have dizziness as a common symptom. Often times, dizziness is treated with medications to address nausea and vertigo without addressing the source of the dizziness. Certain causes of dizziness can be resolved within one physical therapy session without medications.
Smitley joined RSC in 2015 and holds an associate’s degree in applied science for physical therapist assistants from Blackhawk Technical College. Her practice has centered on outpatient orthopedic rehabilitation.
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.”
Michelle Mitchell has a successful career in auto sales and rarely lets anything slow her down. And, while she’ll tell you she has a high tolerance for pain, she also has a low tolerance for not being able to do the things she enjoys doing.
When pain in her right arm became so severe back in the late summer of 2015 that it was impacting her life, she knew she had to take action. She’d first woken up one morning with neck pain and it became progressively worse. She visited an urgent care clinic where, she said, the doctor didn’t take her pain seriously. She was given some anti-inflammatory medication, which helped. For a while.
“Then, one morning I woke up and had severe pain in my right arm,” she recalls. “I was given more drugs and they took an x-ray. It was frustrating because they didn’t seem to take me seriously.”
Finally, an MRI confirmed she had a herniated disc. Another round of medication followed, along with myofascial physical therapy. Then, Michelle had an x-ray guided epidural injection to try to alleviate the pain. Still, no relief.
“I missed a lot of work over those next two months and the nerve pain in my arm was intense,” she says. “It was very frustrating. I was really unclear of the path and what to expect.”
Then came a chance breakthrough that led her to Spine Surgeon Michael Roh, M.D., at Rockford Spine Center.
“I was working with a customer who noticed my symptoms and could tell I was in pain. He said his wife had shown the same symptoms,” she says. “She’d been a patient of Dr. Roh and that’s what prompted me to made an appointment specifically with him.”
“When I saw Michelle, the tingling and pain in her arm had really increased,” says Dr. Roh. “She clearly wasn’t making any progress with physical therapy and the injection.”
Michelle talked with Dr. Roh about her options and he recommended a total disc replacement, which Dr. Roh has performed numerous times with very positive outcomes.
“It’s a very exacting procedure and not every patient is a candidate,” says Dr. Roh. “In Michelle’s case, knowing what I knew, I told her that this is the procedure I would choose in her situation.”
He explained to her that without surgery, the herniation might heal but that the residual pain would most likely remain.
“I asked myself if I wanted to live with that kind of pain for the rest of my life,” Michelle remembers. “And with my pain tolerance, I even wondered if I’d been living with it for a longer time before it escalated.”
No one takes surgery lightly and Michelle was no exception. “It’s a very serious situation when a doctor tells you he’s going to do a surgery on your neck from the front. Dr. Roh helped me understand what was going on. He told me that this was not a small herniation and he took the time to explain it to me.”
Michelle took her pre-surgery preparation very seriously and it paid off. Following the outpatient procedure, she was home by 5 p.m. that day and had a regular meal. Some initial soreness in her neck from the incision and a bit of “raspy” feeling in her voice were the only short-term side effects.
Today, she’s back to her active life, spending time with her husband and kids and helping her customers find their dream cars.
“It was an amazing experience,” Michelle recalls. “Dr. Roh had told me that as soon as the surgery was done, the pain would be gone and he was right. I literally woke up without the pain, like a cloud had been lifted off of me. It was the best thing I’ve ever done.”
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 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.
Physical Therapist Kim Alexander talks to WREX-TV about how posture affects the spine during "Correct Posture Month."
Click here to hear the correct posture tips.
Rockford Spine Center is the first practice in the U.S. to install a wireless Samsung Dual Detector GC80 X-ray machine. RSC shared the story on WIFR-TV and WREX-TV in Rockford, IL. The technology lowers radiation exposure to patients by 30-50 percent, offers a higher quality image to aide in proper diagnosis and creates greater efficiency by speeding up processing time.
Click here to watch the WREX story
Click here to watch the WIFR story
Rockford Spine Center Physical Therapist Phil Oliveri discusses the role of physical therapy on WQRF-TV during Physical Therapy Awareness Month. Oliveri also demonstrates some simple exercises people can do every day to increase flexibility and mobility.
Dr. Marie Walker shared her expertise for a story on WREX-TV highlighting National Arthritis Awareness Month.
Click here to watch the story.
Dr. Fred Sweet discusses the importance of physical activity for good spine health - especially if you sit for most of the day - with WREX-TV anchor Aaron Wright.
Click here to watch the interview.
Dr. Michael Roh is one of nine spine surgeons to discuss the importance of patient satisfaction and ways to raise and maintain it. The article appeared on Becker's Spine Review online.
Click here to read Dr. Roh's comments.
Physical Therapist Phil Oliveri demonstrates a few simple posture exercises while discussing the important role correct posture plays in our everyday health.
Physical Therapist Phil Oliveri discusses the integral role correct posture plays to our current and future health.
Dr. Marie Walker sits down (but not for long) with Andy Gannon of WIFR's The Morning Blend to discuss "sitting disease." Dr. Walker talks about how sitting for too many hours in a day can have a negative impact on our health. She also talks about some tips to avoid the bad effects.