Incredibly, despite the severity of Frank’s symptoms, he was back on the golf course for an annual trip to South Carolina a mere two months following his surgery. “I wasn’t 100 percent, but I could play a short round. That trip was important to me,” he says.
Next up was Aunt Virginia, who suffered from shoulder pain so badly that the cooking enthusiast could barely eat, let alone cook. Some surgeons will hesitate to undertake this kind of surgery when the patient is considered “too old.” Dr. Wiesel did not find Virginia’s age a stumbling block. After their surgeries, both Frank and Virginia received physical therapy and wore slings for six weeks.
“Shoulder replacement surgery has one of the quicker recoveries for joint replacements,” says Dr. Wiesel. “Although most people regain full function after about four months,” he says, “patients continue to improve for about a year and a half. Immediately, though, their pain is improved.”
Today, both Virginia and Frank are back. Back to cooking, back to golfing.
An assignment in Iraq is fraught with danger. But it wasn’t the fear of a roadside bomb or incoming mortars that most interfered with Gavin Helf’s work. He shook at the prospect of strapping on his personal protection equipment. Donning his flak jacket and helmet every time he traveled outside the Green Zone was excruciating.
“The back pain I’d suffered for years would flare up under the heavy load of protective equipment,” Gavin remembers.
That March, Gavin sought assistance from MedStar Orthopaedist and Spine Expert Seyed Babak “Bobby” Kalantar, MD. “An MRI showed a severe collapse of a disc in his lower back between the L3 and L4 vertebrae,” Dr. Kalantar explains. “The degeneration of that disc had caused his spine to curve. Bone was pressing on nerves causing severe pain.”
Rather than cut through all the muscles in the back to get to the spine, in this procedure surgeons make a small 2-inch incision at the patient’s side. “And we make small ‘poke holes’ in the back for the surgical instruments to reach the treatment site. Using a real-time image as a guide, we place a small synthetic cage at the location of the degenerated disc,” Dr. Kalantar says.
“It serves as a kind of scaffold that will hold new bone that the body produces over time. Because we’re fusing the spine at a single area, patients don’t have mobility problems after surgery. In fact, many patients, like Mr. Gavin, move normally for the first time in years.”
Now Gavin says he is positively evangelical about the procedure, telling anyone he knows who has persistent back pain to go to MedStar Georgetown. “Dr. Kalantar was fantastic, and the care at the hospital was great. And at my six-month checkup, for the first time in my life my spine looked absolutely normal.”