|PATIENT STORY: LINDA PATTERSON
It hasn't been an easy year for 61-year-old Linda Patterson. Last fall she was diagnosed with sarcoidosis, an immune disorder that can affect the body in a variety of ways – from breathing problems to skin rashes. She began steroid treatments in November 2009 and seemed to be doing well. But in December, Linda began having constant back pain.
"I couldn't bend over to pick things up and I couldn't sleep lying down," says Linda.
Her doctor sent her to the Edward Spine Center where CT scans revealed she had two fractured vertebrae. The doctor told Linda she could continue a conservative approach, using pain medications and adding a back brace, or she could have surgery.
He suggested seeing doctors at the Edward Neurosciences Institute, who are experienced in a newer minimally invasive surgery called kyphoplasty. It's used to treat new spinal fractures from osteoporosis, chronic use of steroids, tumors, or other causes.
The procedure offers several advantages over traditional open surgery. It takes less time and doesn't require general anesthesia, patients are usually home within a few hours of the surgery, and in 80 to 85 percent of cases, experience dramatic relief immediately.
As with any surgery, there are some risks with kyphoplasty.
The best way to minimize any risk is to have the kyphoplasty done where there is state-of-the-art imaging equipment to help pinpoint the fracture site, as well as having physicians experienced in correctly placing the cement used in the procedure.
In kyphoplasty, the surgeon inserts a tube through a tiny incision in the back and directs it to the fracture site. The process is guided by a type of live X-ray of the patient, viewed on a monitor. The doctor then sends a balloon to the site through the tube. When inflated, the balloon moves the bone back to its normal height and shape. Deflating it creates room for the surgical cement that the doctor inserts to keep the vertebral body in place. The process takes about 30 minutes.
In Linda's case, doctors repaired her first and fourth lumbar vertebrae, but said her other vertebrae were also vulnerable so she might have this problem again. She began to mend, despite some lingering moderate pain, which she attributed to her muscles adjusting. After a while, however, Linda began to experience serious back pain again. Tests showed she'd fractured her second lumbar vertebra this time, and her third was at risk.
In April 2010, Linda had kyphoplasty on those two vertebrae. Doctors believe her spine is sturdy enough now that she shouldn't have any more problems.
"Since that surgery," Linda says, "I'm getting healthy scores for bone density and I'm feeling good."
For more information, visit www.edward.org/neuro.