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In Depth Patient Reports

Patient Stories


Back to normal with minimally invasive procedures

Minimally invasive procedures have several advantages over more traditional back surgeries. When surgeons take a less invasive approach, patients experience reduced operation time, blood loss, scarring, post-op pain, hospital stays and recovery time.

Kailey's story

Kailey Elfstrum, 20, of Oswego, had suffered from back problems from a horrific fall she sustained in 7th grade. The accident led to persistent shooting pains, a one-year break from her full-scale gymnastics training and her mother's vigorous search for the most effective help for her daughter. Over the years Kailey saw several orthopedic specialists, neurosurgeons and other doctors.  She was diagnosed with spondylolisthesis, a condition in which one of the vertebrae slips out of place, sometimes causing pressure on a nerve.  Her displacement was believed to be caused by earlier, undetected stress fractures. Extensive physical therapy and chiropractic treatments followed.

Kailey Elfstrom

In the fall of 2011, the Elfstrum's consulted orthopedic spine surgeon, Dr. Ronjon Paul, of Dupage Medical Group, who performed a minimally invasive lumbar fusion at Edward. The goal of this surgery, which required two tiny incisions less than an inch and a half each, was to fuse Kailey's problematic vertebrae together to form a single, solid bone.

"Dr. Paul (said he) wasn't going to cut my muscles during surgery, he was only going to move them to the side," says Kailey.

After the surgery, Elfstrum faced physical therapy and months of wearing a brace over much of her torso.  The moment of truth came an exceptionally short 33 weeks after her surgery when she tried out for her college cheerleading squad.  Her efforts paid off.  She secured a place on the team and a scholarship.  She now cheers for Northwest Missouri State University’s national championship team. Click here to read more of Kailey's story.

Wayne's story

Wayne Zaininger, 45, of Warrenville, had lower back pain for more than a decade before he asked his primary care physician about it. X-rays showed he had bone spurs and an MRI revealed he had a deformity and spinal stenosis – a narrowing of the spine that puts pressure on the spinal cord or nerves leading from the spinal canal. He couldn't stand for more than 20 minutes without pain radiating down his legs.


"My legs were always tired," Zaininger said. "I felt like I just got done running a marathon. I don't run marathons, by the way. But if I did, I imagine that's what it'd feel like."

In March, his surgeon took the XLIF (eXtreme lateral interbody fusion) approach to grind off the bone spurs and fuse the problem vertebrae. In two days, Zaininger climbed 10 flights of stairs, nearly pain-free, and was able to go home. In two weeks, he returned to work at the St. James Farm in Warrenville, where his job as site manager often requires him to walk or drive the farm's 600 acres.

"This is fantastic because it's taking care of all the problems that I have," Zaininger said.

Barb's story

Barb Sieja, 68, of Naperville, had three back surgeries in 20 years: the first for a fusion with older screws and plates, a second to remove the plates and other hardware ("I have enough to make a clock!" she said), and a third for decompression. Her primary care physician and neurosurgeon both advised against more surgery when her pain returned a year ago.


"Sometimes I had to cut my walking short because of the pain in my hips or down my leg, and another day my knee would hurt, and other days my upper back," said Sieja, a retired pediatric nurse. "It was never the same. I thought, 'Maybe I'm just getting old.'"

With an MRI, her Edward Hospital surgeon diagnosed Sieja with spinal stenosis and severe misalignment. He used XLIF to replace the old disc and fuse the vertebrae. He also removed all of the scar tissue from her previous operations.

It took her a year to recover from her first back surgery. This time, she felt better after two weeks.

"I'm 20 years older than I was for my first surgery, and I feel 100 times better," she said.

Tamas's story

Tamas Takacs, 39, of Batavia, saw Edward surgeons for a stress fracture in his spine about five years ago. He returned last summer when a wrestling bout with his nephew aggravated a herniated disc caused by disc degeneration.


"Most of my life I've done construction work," he said. "And, I've been in manufacturing a long time – bending, heavy lifting – so over time it took a toll."

Takacs underwent a minimally invasive TLIF (transforaminal lumbar interbody fusion) procedure. Four hours after his surgery in February, Takacs was up and walking. He expected to need his wife's help at home for two or three months, but he said it was more like two or three weeks. He returned to the office of his own construction company in March.

"I know people who had (back surgery) 10 or 15 years ago, and they were laid up for six months, recuperating for two years," he said. "This felt like outpatient surgery."

Rolande's story

Rolande Michael, of Lisle, a 68-year-old retired nuclear medicine technologist, already knew osteoarthritis was affecting her back. Pinched spinal nerves and vertebral slippage caused a constant stabbing and burning sensation down her left leg.


"I had become a prisoner in my body," she said. "Prior to the surgery, I could not even climb my own stairs. I was going on my floor like a 2-year-old baby."

In October 2009, Michael underwent a fusion and decompression procedure called ILIF (interspinous lumbar fusion) – a process Michael said the surgeons made easy by explaining exactly what to expect.

"I was a new person," she said. "The following day I was walking in the hallway, and it was unreal."

Cheryl's story

At 38, Cheryl Gilsdorf, of Bolingbrook, ruptured a disc in her spine. The injury was radiating pain from her lower back to her leg, making it impossible for her to work full-time. But she thought she was too young for back surgery.


For five years, she tried to control the pain with shots, nerve burns and pain patches. The chronic physical pain also weighed on her emotionally. She had been diagnosed with depression before her injury; afterward, her depression worsened.

Gilsdorf and her husband talked to their surgeon about how surgery could increase mobility and decrease pain. In February, Gilsdorf underwent the ALIF (anterior lumbar interbody fusion) procedure.

Three months later, she started working in an office full-time again. Now 42, she can run errands, ride a motorcycle and go boating without pain. She's also back to managing her depression and says her Edward surgeon cared about things like that – her whole lifestyle.

"I had seen three other surgeons over the years, and they were just all about the surgery," she said. "He was all about the impact on your life before and after the surgery."


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