Spinal Fusion Surgery Offers Pain Relief for North Phoenix Retiree

Spinal Fusion Surgery
Having recovered from spine surgery, Russell Anderson once again enjoys an active life with his wife, Dorothy.

A few months ago, it was a struggle for Russell Anderson to get out of bed in the morning.

"It just hurt so badly," he said. "It came on gradually, over eight months to a year, but it got to the point where my legs and back hurt to the point that I couldn't do almost anything."

Being confined by pain was a major and difficult change for a hale and hearty 78-year-old who regularly hiked with his wife, Dorothy, rode his exercise bike and enjoyed frequent family activities with their grown daughters and their families.

"Finally," Russell said, "I was in such pain all the time that I couldn't figure out what to do. Surgery is a big deal so it took a while to decide. But we knew Dr. Landsman, and that's why we went back to him."

John C. Lincoln orthopedic surgeon Jonathan Landsman, MD, had performed back surgery on Anderson many years earlier.

Vertebrae Fusion

"Surgery is almost never the first option," Dr. Landsman said. "But when other options no longer work, it may be necessary.

What Is Spinal Fusion?

Degenerative conditions such as osteoporosis or injury can cause abnormal motion of spinal bones, or vertebrae, leading to progressively more severe pain.

Immobilization of the affected vertebrae can eliminate the pain. Fusing a portion of the spine immobilizes the vertebrae.

Spinal fusion is a surgical technique used to join two or more vertebrae and is done most commonly in the lower back, the lumbar region of the spine.

Fusions frequently are done with supplementary bone tissue, either from the patient or a donor, used in conjunction with the body’s natural bone growth processes.

In most cases, the fusion is accompanied by a process called fixation, which involves placing metallic screws, rods or plates, or cages to stabilize the vertebra during the bone fusion process. Fusion typically takes six to 12 months after surgery. During this time, external bracing may be required.

"Years ago, I had done surgery to fuse the lowest two vertebrae on Russell's back, but over the years, problems developed above the fusion. That made it necessary to fuse the next two vertebrae in his lower back."

Russell's lower spine was exerting significant pressure on the sciatic nerves that run into the legs. "In a case like this," Dr. Landsman said, "you have to free the nerves and make sure the structure of the spine is intact so it can continue to protect the nerves from future pressure over time."

What that means for the patient is pain relief. Russell went to John C. Lincoln Deer Valley Hospital for back surgery. Because Russell is older than most spine patients, Dr. Landsman asked one his partners at Phoenix Orthopedic Consultants, John Ehteshami, MD, to work with him during Russell's surgery.

"Whenever I have a patient with special needs, I like to have a trusted colleague assisting me," Dr. Landsman said. "Similarly, Dr. Ehteshami often asks me to assist him."

Working in tandem, along with advances in surgical procedures, made it possible to fix Russell's problem with spine surgery, Dr. Landsman said.

Age Not a Barrier

"There was a time that we didn't do surgery for people Mr. Anderson's age," Dr. Landsman said, "but advances in recent years have made it possible to expand the group of people we can help with surgical procedures so that age is not the barrier to surgery that it once was.

For five days following surgery, Russell recovered in a private room in the hospital's spacious Orthopedic Unit on the fourth floor. "It was a really nice place, and my wife was able to stay with me on the foldout guest bed in my room," he said.

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Orthopedic nurses helped him begin to regain mobility, slowly moving down the hall with the aid of a walker. They were really good," he said. "Also, I want to say that Dr. Landsman is a really good doctor and a nice guy. He did good work — I'm feeling a lot better, now. I liked his partner, too."

After Russell was released from the hospital, he avoided time in a rehab facility by going home to the care of his wife. "I had to do a lot for him when he first came home, but he's doing well now," Dorothy Anderson said.

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