Spondylolisthesis, degenerative disc disease
Surgery relieves nearly two decades of back pain
JeJuan was in high school when he first felt something pop in his back while playing basketball. That's 20 years ago, more than half of his young life – and a long time to deal with back pain.
"I would just push myself through it," he recalls now. "I'd get out of bed some days and it wasn't too bad. Some days, I just stood up and I could tell it was going to be one of those days."
In addition to the back pain, he developed radiating pain down his left leg and eventually pain down his right side as well. It has affected nearly every part of JeJuan's life. Every room he walks into, he says, he looks to make sure there was a place where he could sit down. He even had to stop working as a security guard because he was not able to stand long enough.
JeJuan eventually married, had two children and strived for a somewhat normal life. His back pain, however, would recede at times and then return to hobble his movements again.
That's all until fall 2021, when JeJuan found himself in too much pain to sleep. He visited a local emergency room, where they referred him to Mayfield Brain & Spine. When he called Mayfield's Access Coordination line, he was apprehensive because he had already tried so much, including physical therapy and pain injections.
"I was just hoping they wouldn't say that all I needed was more (physical) therapy," JeJuan says. "That's what everybody had always told me."
His call went to Sydney, one of Mayfield's Access Coordination specialists, who noted the failure of past conservative care to relieve JeJuan's symptoms. She booked him an appointment with spine specialist Dr. Bryan Krueger.
"It was time for him to speak with a surgeon," Sydney says. "I advised the patient of the process, and he was happy with our plan. Every patient that calls, we take the time to listen and work together as a team to ensure that they are paired with the best doctor for them, based on their conditions."
When JeJuan first saw Dr. Krueger, the neurosurgeon did something he found unusual.
"He listened," JeJuan says. "He said some of the things in my story told him that I needed to have surgery."
On JeJuan's imaging, Dr. Krueger saw degenerative disc disease at the L5-S1 levels of the spine and spondylolisthesis, where a bone in the spine slips out of place relative to the one below it. Given that the pain had lasted for two decades and that non-surgical methods hadn't relieved the pain, he recommended a surgery to fuse the two vertebrae together.
"JeJuan had an isthmic spondylolisthesis that likely was related to an undiagnosed bilateral pars fracture of his L5 bone," Dr. Krueger says. "It is possible that it occurred when he heard the 'pop' in his back 20 years ago. Over time, the L5 bone migrated or slipped forward relative to his sacrum, causing nerve root compression. This condition causes back pain that eventually leads to leg pain."
Two days after New Year's Day, JeJuan checked into The Christ Hospital for the surgery. Dr. Krueger and Dr. Brian Kuhn, a vascular surgeon at the hospital, inserted an interbody cage to stabilize the spine and allow the two vertebrae to heal together.
"I was up and walking that same night," JeJuan recalls. "I didn't know if it would stiffen up on me or anything, so I just wanted to keep moving."
Dr. Krueger says the patient's outlook is positive, although it could take several months to gauge the full response.
"An anterior lumbar interbody fusion with posterior pedicle screw fixation is a very reliable way of treating this condition," the neurosurgeon says. "I am thrilled to see JeJuan return to work and enjoy an improvement in his quality of life."
Two months out from his surgery, JeJuan is "taking it easy mostly," and has started some light walking, jogging, and weights. He can move around and stand more easily, and the pain is mostly gone.
"It's a big difference," he says.
~ Cliff Peale
Hope Story Disclaimer -"JeJuan'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.