compressed spinal cord
Everyone needs good health care, even Santa Claus.
Bob, an experienced scuba diver who plays the part of Scuba Santa at the famed Newport (Kentucky) Aquarium, was one mis-step away from lifelong paralysis when he hobbled into the office of Dr. Robert Bohinski, a neurosurgeon with the Mayfield Clinic, on February 23, 2007.
Bob, a network marketing manager who was nearing 60, came in fearing the worst. “Although I had no pain in my neck, it had been bothering me for four to six weeks,” he recalls.
Presented with Bob’s symptoms and a series of forbidding MRI images, Dr. Bohinski scheduled emergency surgery for that evening. In so doing, he ensured that Bob’s future would continue to include walking, diving and entertaining children as Scuba Santa.
“I got into a wheelchair and was admitted into Christ Hospital,” Bob says. “I could barely sign my name. If he hadn’t gotten to me when he did, I would have been paralyzed. I owe him a lot.”
Bob’s injury was a compressed spinal cord at the C 3-4-5 level, right at the back of his neck. How and why the injury occurred “is the $64,000 question,” Bob says.
“On the MRI, it looked like the neck of someone who had been in a wreck or through severe trauma,” Bob says. “It might have happened because of age. I am very active, and I do weight lifting as part of my workout routine. I also do a lot of diving, and sometimes getting in and out of dive boats in rough waters can be taxing on the body. I probably exacerbated something that was deteriorating. I also played football in high school. I found myself thinking about various plays when I landed on my neck.”
But Dr. Bohinski says the process of spinal cord compression can build slowly and may go un-noticed “until things just get to a turning point, like the straw that breaks the camel’s back.” In Bob’s case, he continues, “This was likely just the result of a little additional compression from joint swelling that may ordinarily occur after light physical activities. That little bit of extra swelling in his case put him over the edge, causing his spinal cord to loose blood supply and malfunction.
Daily activities – flexing and extending his neck, sleeping the wrong way on a pillow -- caused the problem to worsen. “Ultimately, his walking became uncoordinated, resulting in further stress to his spine,” Dr. Bohinski says. “With each abnormal step he put a further strain on his neck. It was a vicious cycle.”
Dr. Bohinski operated for two and a half hours, cutting open the vertebrae to relieve the pressure.
“I did a three-level posterior cervical decompressive laminectomy,” he explains. “He did not require any spinal fusion. We were not completely sure that his spine would hold up, but given how active he had been just prior to deteriorating from his spinal condition, we wanted to give him a chance to heal without the more complicated and potentially activity-limiting spinal fusion that is sometimes required to stabilize the spine after decompressive surgery to treat spinal stenosis. In his case, we believed that we could decompress the spine in such a way as to avoid spinal fusion surgery, giving Bob the best chance to resume his previous love of being very active, including scuba diving.”
Dr. Bohinski warned Bob’s wife that he might require rehabilitation at Cincinnati’s Drake Center for up to six months. But Bob recalls that he felt “great” after surgery and “I could feel a lot of movement coming back.”
Bob, patched back together with 18 staples, was discharged four days later and began outpatient therapy at a community hospital.
“He recovered without complications and rapidly,” Dr. Bohinski says. “He actually recovered much more rapidly than average -- a fact I attribute to his excellent physical and emotional well-being.”
Today, Bob is doing everything he used to.
“I dive, I work out on the elliptical 30 minutes a day, I play golf,” Bob says. “I feel like I’m 90 percent – and still getting stronger, which is pretty good! I am very fortunate and thank God every day for my recovery, along with Dr. Bohinski and all of the other members of the Mayfield Clinic and the Christ Hospital team.”
Hope Story Disclaimer -"Courtney'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.
“My neck had never bothered me before.
I was losing balance and coordination.
It was troubling because I hadn’t been in an accident, and I hadn’t experienced any trauma”