Sarah's story
 Sarah’s story

  Herniated disc

Nurse practitioner clinic routes Sarah to the care she needs

Facing the prospect that she soon wouldn’t be able to handle Harley anymore and watch him fly, Sarah knew it was time to get help for the neck and shoulder pain that wouldn’t go away.

Harley is a blue and gold macaw at the Cincinnati Zoo, where Sarah works. Harley doesn’t weigh more than a few pounds. But with the numbness in her left hand, even the act of extending her arm to support Harley was difficult.

photo: Sarah with HarleySarah with Harley

“My goal,” she says, “was always to get back to handling the animals.”

Sarah had been dealing with neck and shoulder pain for more than a decade. She had shoulder surgery and some pain treatments, with limited effect.

“Basically, I just lived with the pain,” she says. “It was impacting my ability to be a mom and to do my job.”

Referred to Mayfield by her internist, Sarah got a quick appointment with Gina Malott, a nurse practitioner in Mayfield’s Green Township office. Malott immediately ordered advanced imaging and scheduled Sarah for an epidural steroid injection to relieve the pain, then follow-up with physical therapy. Within nine days, she was getting the care she needed.

“I wanted to try something that was not invasive, and try that first,” Sarah says. “It was just so much pain all the time. I was exhausted.”

Mayfield is expanding nurse practitioner clinics at each of its five offices so patients can be evaluated and referred to the appropriate level of care efficiently. The care usually begins with conservative treatments such as physical therapy or injections, and could lead to surgery if necessary.

“It’s a little overwhelming, and she was patient with me, allowing plenty of time for questions,” Sarah says of Malott. “I felt like I had some control because I was provided with options.”

Malott notes that Sarah had been in pain for a long time.

“We recommended treatments that would give her some quick relief and allow her to try physical therapy,” Malott says. “Patients who are in pain deserve to know that we will help them find the best care plan. If surgery is necessary, we can provide direct access to a consult with a neurosurgeon.”

Sarah ended up taking that route. The injections relieved the pain, but it returned after a while. The physical therapy sessions didn’t provide a permanent solution for her. Malott, the nurse practitioner, then referred Sarah to Dr. Christopher McPherson, a neurosurgeon at the Green Township office. Her imaging showed disc herniations at the C5-6 and C6-7 levels of her cervical spine.

During the operation at the Mayfield Spine Surgery Center, Dr. McPherson removed and replaced the discs with artificial discs.

"Sarah had consistent and long-lasting symptoms that were greatly affecting her daily quality of life,” Dr. McPherson said. “She tried nonsurgical measures, but the pain continued. The next appropriate step for her was surgery, which helped resolve her symptoms and get her back to normal life and function. She has done very well.”

After the surgery, the numbness and tingling down Sarah’s left arm was gone. She worked hard at physical therapy for several months to support her recovery. She was able to help run a Christmas-tree lot in December, lifting she would not have been able to do before the surgery. She’s also running 5Ks again, “although not nearly as fast.”

And she’s back to handling Harley again.

“It’s really helped me,” she says, “both with relieving the pain and with my mental well-being.”

~ Cliff Peale

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Hope Story Disclaimer -"Sarah'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.