1st US Service Member to Receive Artificial Disc Celebrates 8 Years Pain-Free

He was a U.S. Marine on Active Duty, planning a career as a Naval Aviator, when a herniated disc stopped everything. Alex Fender saw all his plans postponed, then stopped indefinitely, as physicians repeatedly told him that he would be ‘medically retired’ from the Corps at the age of 21. It was a prediction he refused to accept.

In 2004, Fender met Dr. Scott Blumenthal, a spine surgeon at Texas Back Institute in Plano. After the initial exam, Dr. Blumenthal suggested an artificial disc, which was a new procedure at the time.

Artificial Disc Replacement had just recently been FDA approved back then,” says Dr. Blumenthal, “I had exceptional outcomes since performing the first disc replacement in the US and I knew Alex would be a good candidate for this procedure.”

Fender was up and walking pain-free hours after his surgery. He had no complications, served four more years on Active Duty, and was honorably discharged in 2008.

Today, Fender is a successful entrepreneur in Dallas. He now serves as CEO of Funnel Science, an internet marketing and SEO agency.

“Staying healthy is objective number one,” says Fender. “You can’t get on with your life if you’re not able to get up and go to work. Texas Back Institute gave me that opportunity, and I’m glad to be an example of how well this surgery works.”

Professional bass fisherman, Ryan Lovelace gets back to fishing

As a professional bass fisherman, Ryan’s pain was exacerbated by his participation in several fishing tournaments every year. In order to win or place in these professional bass fishing tournaments, the angler must catch as many bass as possible with the idea being that the final fish weight of his top 5 fish are compared to the other participants.

The fishing tournament typically lasts for two days and the more fish that are caught, the higher probability of getting 5 huge ones. This requires lots of casts. How many? “I typically cast 3,000 to 3,500 casts each day of a tournament,” Lovelace said.
Standing on his feet for about 8 hours and casting 3,000 times a day during a tournament took its toll on Ryan’s injured back. Over time, it wore down his L5 vertebra and Dr. Richard Guyer at Texas Back Institute recommended a microdiscectomy.
After this procedure was completed, Ryan spent less than 24 hours in the hospital for recovery and was sent home for rest and further rehabilitation. A short while after his operation, Ryan is getting back to his top fishing form. He hopes to be completely recovered and able to compete in the 2013 pro bass fishing season.

Patient of the Month

Robbin Hallford went from unable to stand to increasing the number of yoga classes she teaches thanks to the miracle of 360 fusion.

Baby Boomer Robbin Hallford is a teacher and yoga instructor who can proudly state she is more active now than in her 20’s thanks to the miracle of modern surgery. Hallford, a 48-year old mother of three, underwent a 360 fusion around her L4 and L5 vertebrae in March of 2011. Since that time, she has proven daily that she can stay active and continue teaching yoga. In fact, she is planning to increase the number of classes she is teaching this summer, only a year after surgery.

Surgery was not Hallford’s first choice. After several days of pain and the inability to move her left leg, she attempted to manage the pain with chiropractic treatments. It was during these treatments that x-rays showed the lumbar area to be foggy. The chiropractor suggested an MRI, which Hallford took to a physician who recommended Dr. Michael Duffy of the Texas Back Institute.

Dr. Duffy made every effort to help me control the pain, including steroid shots, pain control and anti-inflammatory drugs. Unfortunately, I had reactions to the medications, particularly the anti-inflammatory,” said Hallford.

Hallford collapsed in her class, which was the final straw. She decided to move forward with back surgery at Texas Back Institute. Dr. Duffy assembled a team of experts to ensure that Hallford’s surgery went smoothly. In March of 2011, they performed a 360 fusion on L4 and L5, giving Hallford much needed relief.

“We knew that Robbin’s condition would be considerably improved by a 360 degree fusion,” said Dr. Duffy. “Having a patient who was so dedicated to post-operative physical therapy certainly expedited her recovery.”

Hallford’sbackground is in physical therapy and kinesiology, so she was well aware of the effort it would take to recover from surgery.

“I was in devastating pain, thinking of giving up my yoga practice and going on disability,” said Hallford. “Thanks to Dr. Duffy and his great team, I am 100% better. I got the life back that I wanted. For me, surgery was the answer.”

Like many baby boomers, Hallford wants to continue an active life on her own terms and not let injuries or aging slow her down.

“My 48 does not look like my mother’s 48 or my grandmother’s. I do more now than I did when I was 20 years old. I’m stronger now. The surgery helped me to be able to keep that,” said Hallford.

Hallford is not a proponent of choosing surgery first. In fact, she chose to use her own knowledge and skills in yoga to postpone surgery as long as possible. In the end, it was the miracle of back surgery that gave her the life she wanted.

“If there is any way, do it without surgery. But it you cannot avoid it – go to TBI. I highly recommend Michael Duffy. To take me from where I was to where I am now, he’s a very skilled physician. The team they put together was top-notch. If you are facing [spine] surgery, I can tell you with all confidence you will get the best treatment and honestly I believe the best outcome.”

Patient of the Month – Felix Gonzales

At 58 years old, Felix Gonzalez, Jr. was a quadriparetic from severe repetitive stress injuries incurred while employed as an aircraft assembly worker. He was confined to a wheelchair and could barely use his arms and legs.

Today, he’s living independently in the Dallas area – thanks to what spine surgeons call a miraculous recovery from modern surgery.

“When I came to TBI, I could not even tie my shoes,” said Gonzalez. “Now I use a walker to walk, have my own apartment, can drive and shop for my groceries. I am slowly gathering my independence.”

Last year, Gonzalez was living with his parents in Washington State, unable to care for himself. Fortunately, his sister-in-law found a place that would treat Gonzalez’s injuries and provide him with relief – Texas Back Institute.

“We knew we could help,” said Dr. Daniel Bradley, a spine surgeon at Texas Back Institute, “but we had no idea how well Felix would recover.”

Gonzalez met with Dr. Bradley and his team to outline a treatment schedule. Dr. Bradley is a pioneer in minimally invasive spine surgery at the Texas Back Institute in Denton, Texas. He performed the cervical fusion first to give Gonzalez relief by alleviating pressure in his spine. Gonzales made what the staff called a miraculous recovery during therapy due to his discipline and diligence.

Next, Dr. Bradley performed the lumbar decompression surgery on Gonzalez. Again, after extraordinary progress in physical therapy, Gonzalez was walking.

Gonzalez does not plan to stop his progress any time soon. He is hoping to be using just a cane in the next month. And he has other plans.

“I want to get back on a Harley and join my friends in Arizona. We used to ride the Four Corners. I will do that again,” said Gonzalez.

BW Beasley…Back to Racquetball!  

BW Beasley came to the Texas Back Institute after suffering from chronic back pain symptoms for years. Ten years earlier, Mr. Beasley had undergone a microdiscectomy with a different physician which only temporarily relieved his pain. He was anxious for a chance to get back to an unrestricted and active lifestyle, as he had been an active golfer and racquetball player before his pain had become too severe. Additionally, he was required to travel for work as a sales manager, and this was becoming increasingly difficult due to his back pain symptoms.

After conservative treatments proved unsuccessful, BW decided to go through with disc replacement surgery with Dr. Jack Zigler at TBI.  Shortly after surgery, the hospital staff had him up walking and into the artificial disc replacement physical therapy program.  BW progressed rapidly and by his 6 month follow-up visit, he was scuba diving and golfing again. Travel was no longer an issue, which made work much more manageable.  At his 12 month follow-up visit, he arrived at TBI with a copy of the Summer 2009 Racquetball magazine that featured an article he had written about playing the perfect game. He had just played in the US Open for Racquetball in his age group—an amazing feat, for someone who was seeking back pain treatment had undergone back surgery less than a year before. He stated that people were amazed to hear that he had an artificial disc and asked many questions about it, his surgeon, and where he had his surgery. “I refer patients to TBI and Dr. Zigler all the time!” he says.

Three years later, he won a national Racquetball tournament for his age group. “I have some trouble with my shoulder and my elbow at times, but not really my back,” he said. He can’t believe that three years have passed and that he continues to do so well after back surgery and feels so good.

“I never thought I’d be able to get my life back,” he says, “but if I can do it, I know others can too.” When asked what BW would tell others worried about undergoing spine surgery, he says, “If you do nothing else, just go see the spine surgeons at Texas Back Institute.  You owe yourself at least that!”

Tressa Scott, a teenager in Allen, Texas, couldn’t stand up straight for more than a year — until the summer of 2010 following a complex spinal surgery performed by Dr. Isador Lieberman. 

 Before her surgery, Tressa had a 60 degree curve in her lower back and a 35 degree curve in her upper back. Now, the curves are balanced at just over 12 degrees each. “It’s remarkable how much difference there is just a day after surgery,” said Tressa’s mother, Norma Scott. “Her back is so nice and flush.”

Tressa’s X-Rays prior to surgery.

Scott said she first noticed that her daughter’s scoliosis had worsened in the summer of 2009 after Tressa hit a growth spurt. “She was standing up in the kitchen and I said, ‘Tress, why can’t you stand up straight?’ And she said, ‘I am standing up straight,’” Scott said. “I went over to her, and even though her legs were straight, her shoulders were off and her shoulder blade was protruding. It didn’t look right.”

 Scott took Tressa to a Plano physician who referred her to Dr. Lieberman at the Scoliosis & Spine Tumor Center, a practice established by Texas Back Institute and Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital Plano. The center provides the most appropriate and least invasive treatment, support and coping strategies for adolescents and adults suffering from spinal deformities and tumors.

 Dr. Lieberman performed surgery on Tressa using the SpineAssist® surgical robot, a technology he innovated. At the time, the robot used for Tressa’s surgery was one of only three robots in the United States and the only one in Texas. Accurate to less than half a millimeter, the surgical robot enables surgeons to plan the optimal surgery ahead of time using a computed tomography (CT)-based 3D simulation of the patient’s spine.

“Like a pilot in a flight simulator, I can map out the patient’s spinal anatomy and perform the entire procedure before the patient even arrives for surgery,” said Dr. Lieberman. “The robot doesn’t do the surgery, but it allows me to be more efficient and more precise, and to anticipate potential complications before they occur.”

 After her surgery, Tressa was able to be a normal teen again. She gained a dramatically straighter spine – and also her self-confidence.

Tressa’s X-Rays after surgery.

 “It’s amazing to see how much straighter my back is now,” said Tressa. “I’m standing up straighter, not leaning over to the side. The surgery gave me a new kind of confidence.”

For Vickie Money of Venus, Texas, mopping the floor was a simple, routine task she was doing on another ordinary day. But something unusual happened, and suddenly she found herself suffering from severe pain in her lower back that would impact her life for several years to come.

At the time, Vickie was only 46 years old, and she first treated the problem with physical therapy, pain injections and pain medication for several years. But nothing helped relieve her of a pain so severe that her activity had become limited to nothing more than sitting or lying down most of the time. Finally, several years later, she went to Texas Back Institute and was examined by Dr. Richard Guyer.

 “Without a doubt, the best thing about my experience with Texas Back Institute was Dr. Guyer and the staff,” said Vickie. “Dr. Guyer and all of the staff treat you as if you are the only patient they have for the day. I didn’t want to spend the rest of my life on the sidelines and taking pain pills, and it wasn’t fair that I could have ruined my life because I mopped my kitchen floor one morning.” 

Now at the age of 53, Vickie learned she needed surgery to help alleviate the pain. She was understandably concerned as to whether or not the surgery would help or make the problem worse and, if she did gain some relief, she worried how long it would last. Under Dr. Guyer’s care, Vickie underwent a 360 fusion surgery on her L4 and L5 vertebrae to correct the problem and get her life moving forward again. Hoping for even the slightest pain relief, she was more than pleased to gain relief of about 80%. 

Looking back, Vickie repeats what many Texas Back Institute patients advise others: don’t wait to do something about your back pain.

 “Texas Back Institute and Dr. Guyer gave me back my life. I now enjoy retirement, family and friends. I can ride a horse again. But every time I pick up a mop, I can’t help but remember what happened several years ago – and I’m so much more mindful because, after all, I don’t want to ruin Dr. Guyer’s handiwork!”

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