Excruciating neck pain brought Joe Kirby, 62, and Dan Hagaman, 69, from Chattanooga, Tenn., to MedStar Georgetown University Hospital in search of neck and spine pain relief after years of failed treatments.
Friends since their 20s, Joe and Dan noticed the discomfort in their necks at approximately the same time. After a lifetime of jarring impact from competitive waterskiing, speedboat racing, motocross competitions and regular weight lifting at the gym, neither was surprised. “I guess a body can only take so much,” says Joe. “But the pain started to alter my personality.”
As the pain grew from uncomfortable to unbearable, it drove both men to try nearly every available nonsurgical intervention possible—but with little success.
“Joe and Dan were both suffering from a nerve root compression syndrome originating from the neck, commonly known as cervical radiculopathy,” says Jean-Marc Voyadzis, MD, co-director of MedStar Georgetown’s Center for Minimally Invasive Spine Surgery. “Pain results from the deterioration of discs between vertebrae of the neck pressing against nerves in the spinal column.”
According to Dr. Voyadzis, spinal fusion surgery is the most common recommendation to relieve symptoms for patients like Joe and Dan, who often go through prolonged and unsuccessful attempts to manage their severe pain.
However, spinal fusion is not always an ideal option. “It’s well-known that this fusion can lead to more surgery in the future because the discs above and below the repair take on more stress and will eventually wear out,” says Dr. Voyadzis. “An alternative to fusion surgery is a nerve root decompression from the back of the neck known as a foraminotomy. This procedure can be done with a minimally invasive technique. Benefits include shorter hospitalizations, fewer surgical risks, no need for implanted material and a faster recovery time.”
In Chattanooga and desperate for relief, Joe asked a physician friend of his daughter for a recommendation. She had completed her medical residency at Georgetown University Medical School. “She told me her choice, hands down, would be Dr. Voyadzis because he was well- known internationally for his expertise in spine surgery.”
After a phone consultation, Dr. Voyadzis determined from Joe’s medical history and imaging studies that he was a candidate for a minimally invasive cervical foraminotomy. This option appealed to Joe, and he booked a flight to Washington, D.C., as soon as possible.
Joe was out of the hospital in less than 24 hours. He spent a few days sightseeing while he waited for his post-op clinic appointment and then flew back to Tennessee. Now, Joe says he’s pain free—and was feeling good enough to try and keep up with a world-class skier on the slopes in Utah this past March.
Dan was persuaded by Joe’s experience to forgo a recommendation by several neurosurgeons for fusion surgery. With a similar medical history and after consultation with Dr. Voyadzis, Dan opted instead for a repeat of his friend’s procedure about six weeks after Joe’s. He also returned home a few days after his surgery.
“I’m thrilled I’m no longer crippled with pain, and I’m looking forward to getting back to my life at the gym,” says Dan. “I am very fortunate that Joe found Dr. Voyadzis. We don’t want to slow down as we age. We like to have fun.”