herniated disc with fragments
The timing could not have been worse. Joy had just received the call she and her husband had been awaiting for five and a half years – a baby girl would soon be ready for adoption in China – and Joy's spinal health was starting to deteriorate. The call summoning her immediately to China could come at any time, but would she be well enough to go? The uncertainty weighed heavily.
"This had been a dream of mine, and I have tremendous faith," Joy says. "This was something we knew we were supposed to do. After all this time, did I really have to have a serious health problem now?"
Joy was suffering from a herniated disc with a fragment that had floated free and was pressing unmercifully on a nerve. The pain was intermittent at first, then rapidly became unbearable.
Acknowledging the discomfort at first but not yet realizing that she had a serious problem, Joy went to urgent care and was given steroids to help with inflammation. When the steroids provided no relief, she returned to urgent care, and a physician ordered an MRI. "That's when he said, ‘You have to go to Mayfield,' " Joy recalls. "It had reached a point where I was debilitated. Over a period of four weeks I was very quickly losing use of my left leg. My strength had all but disappeared. Walking was becoming an issue. Sleep was coming in 40-minute increments. My life revolved around sitting around the couch.
"The pain in the back was terrific, but the pain in the leg was worse. It was a sharp, burning, throbbing pain. I couldn't move. I also had numbness, which is a kind of pain in and of itself. That sciatic nerve, the pain shooting down my leg, stayed constant."
As she prepared for her appointment with Brad Curt, MD, she discovered Mayfield's hope stories online and found Stephanie's story, about another young professional woman who was freed from the misery of two herniated discs following surgery by another Mayfield neurosurgeon, "I clung to her story," Joy said.
Joy saw Dr. Curt in his office in West Chester, Ohio, on July 14, 2010. One look at her MRI and Dr. Curt knew that Joy's back would not heal with conservative treatment. And because her need to travel to China was imminent, there was no time to delay. Dr. Curt scheduled her for surgery at West Chester Hospital the next day.
"Dr. Curt was so wonderfully proactive and empathetic," Joy recalled. "My mom helped me get to the office, and at that point I had jokingly said that an amputation would have been an answer for me. I was so exhausted and the pain was so intense that I think my expectations were very low.
"When Dr. Curt said we're doing surgery tomorrow, I wept in his office. I knew then there was a reason and there was a hope. I think he got it. It was so encouraging to have someone who was a great listener, who saw my problem as real and fixable."
Dr. Curt performed a micro-discectomy, a procedure in which a herniated or degenerative disc in the lower spine is surgically removed. Discectomy literally means "cutting out the disc." Dr. Curt made a tiny midline incision of 1 to 2 centimeters, then used a large microscope to help him "open a window of bone" so that he could reach the broken pieces of disc, "take them out, free up the nerves and make them happy."
While the procedure brought life-changing renewal for Joy, it was actually routine for Dr. Curt. "I can't glam up what I did," he said, with characteristic humility.
Joy remained in the hospital overnight. Her pain vastly diminished, she was walking the next day. She was working again, part-time, two and a half weeks later, and on a plane to China five weeks later to meet and bond with her 13-month-old daughter, Micah. "Had I not gotten the treatment, in no way, shape or form would I have been able to get my daughter when I did," Joy said.
In retrospect, Joy had suffered back problems for some time.
"I had never considered myself someone who had a back issue, but looking back to my 20s, I can say that it hurt a little. It was never debilitating, it never kept me from activities or caused me to miss work. It was not even top of mind. I had also suffered severe endometriosis. During my periods I had severe pain that would radiate front to back, and it was hard to distinguish what was back pain and what was endometriosis."
Joy was apprehensive about the trip to China, which involved a 22-hour plane trip. She was accompanied by her husband and their 8-year-old daughter, also adopted from China, and her parents. "The trip is not an easy one for those in tip-top condition, let alone someone five weeks out of surgery," she recalls. "We flew economy coach, and I'm 5-foot-10. One leg of the trip was 14 hours. Thankfully, I made it through unscathed!"
Once in China, the family never stopped. Joy visited the Great Wall (but did not climb it), toured Beijing, attended ceremonies, and cuddled little 17-pound Micah.
"I'm very tall by Chinese standards, and everything there is very Asian, very low to the ground. We got the baby the third day we were in China, and I was trying to raise this 13-month-old in a hotel room without changing tables or baby baths. I needed to be able to hold her and carry her for bonding. I probably exerted myself more than I should have."
But Joy's back held strong. And six months later, she was feeling almost back to normal, lifting and carrying Micah, working full-time in organizational development, wearing all of her old shoes, and back to her old habit of power-shopping. "I can walk a mall with the best of them," she says with a laugh. "No one would guess that I had surgery or a back issue. I'm back to Joy."
In some sense, however, her spine remains "top of mind." She strives to lift with her legs and not twist her back. She sits in supportive chairs and uses ice if she needs it.
Dr. Curt, she says, was an answer to her prayers. "He is the full package: he has technical expertise and the bedside manner. I was treated with such respect. He gets an A-plus, as does his staff. His office knew me and addressed me by name. I felt like a whole person from Day 1."
Hope Story Disclaimer -"Joy's Story" is about one patient's health-care experience. Please bear in mind that because every patient is unique, individual patients may respond to treatment in different ways. Results are influenced by many factors and may vary from patient to patient.
"No one would guess that I had surgery or a back issue. I'm back to Joy."