Terri's story: Degenerative disc disease

The referral came from an unexpected source. It wasn't a friend who advised Terri to call Mayfield. It wasn't her primary care doctor. She didn't see an ad that caught her eye. She wasn't searching the internet for spine care.

"My insurance company suggested Mayfield," Terri says.

She's oh-so-glad they did. By that time Terri had spent months trying to find something, someone, to help her reduce her suffering from degenerative disc disease. Today, thanks to Tann Nichols, MD, a Mayfield spine specialist, Terri is pain free, working full-time without restrictions, and ready to get back to outdoor activities that include boating and riding side-by-sides with her beau.

"I couldn't be happier," Terri says. "Every time I go to see Dr. Nichols, I could just hug him. This is a miracle."

Terri's pain was triggered in May 2017 by a deep-tissue massage, which aggravated degenerative conditions in her lower spine. When the pain became worse and more intense, she saw a chiropractor. X-rays revealed degenerative disc disease. She saw her family doctor, who referred her to an orthopedic practice. The orthopedist diagnosed her with a cyst that was pressing on a nerve root, and prescribed pain injections.

"I had my first shot, and the pain was instantly gone," Terri says. "That lasted about 2 weeks. I had another appointment for next shot, and it worked for about a week. To make a long story short, I had a total of 4 shots. Every time the pain came back in a different area."

Terri was then referred to a neurosurgeon, who said the main problem was a disc, not a cyst. He recommended surgical fusion. Terri hedged and made an appointment with a spine institute. The surgeon there told her the problem was the cyst, not the disc. It could be easily removed for $16,000 cash.

"It would be a quick surgery," Terri says. "But my insurance wouldn't cover it. My boyfriend said, 'Terri, what's our best option? Did you ever think of finding a doctor your insurance would cover?' That's when my insurance company suggested Mayfield."

Finally, a definitive answer

Dr. Nichols reviewed Terri's scans and didn't see an either-or problem. It was all-of-the-above. Both the cyst and the degenerated disc were causing her "electric-shock-like" pain. Dr. Nichols didn't think physical therapy would help her, but he asked Terri to try, just to make sure. Meanwhile, Terri was "climbing the walls," unable to get comfortable unless she was lying down flat on her back. Sleep came fitfully, an hour or two at a time.

After physical therapy proved unhelpful, Dr. Nichols recommended surgery. His plan was to make two small incisions, remove the cyst that was pressing on a nerve root, remove the failed disc, and insert a cage, creating space between her vertebrae and allowing for fusion between L-4 and L-5. Dr. Nichols would plan and execute the procedure at St. Elizabeth Hospital in Edgewood, Kentucky, using the Mazor X™ robot.

Terri had surgery on a Thursday. She awoke with "excruciating pain from surgery itself," but all of her nerve pain was gone. For three or four days, she struggled. Then on Saturday, she went to stand up and felt "an electric pain" shoot through her leg. "I sat back down and started crying," she says. "Then I went to stand back up and it didn't happen again. In fact, I never had electric pain again. When I went back for my 2-week checkup, I told Dr. Nichols I could hug him. I was in no pain."

Terri, who never missed a day of work because of pain before her surgery, went back to work 7 weeks after surgery with some lifting restrictions. "I still don't lift heavy stuff," she says. "If something is too heavy, my co-workers come help me. Every day gets better, and I do more and more."

A woman on the go, she is looking forward to enjoying outdoor activities with her boyfriend. "We ride side-by-sides, which have two seats and resemble a dune buggy," Terri says. "We're very active, riding on rough terrain, rocks, flat surfaces. We wear harnesses, but you still get bounced around. I thought I'd never be able to do that again, but when I saw Dr. Nichols, he didn't see why I couldn't. He said, 'Try it in the spring. Start with easy trails and stop if it bothers you.'"

That sounds like a prescription for recovery to Terri. She's more than ready to celebrate the return of her quality of life.

~ Cindy Starr

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Hope Story Disclaimer -"Terri'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.