Margie was visiting the Air Force Museum in Dayton, Ohio, one day when she suddenly experienced excruciating pain. Multiple forces that had been building up throughout her life – scoliosis, arthritis, herniated discs, and spondylolisthesis – suddenly reached a breaking point. Like a dam that gives way after too much pressure, allowing the water to gush forth, Margie's spine gave way to the pressures of chronic disc disease, releasing a flood of pain.
"I felt like I was in labor, back labor," Margie remembers. "There was nothing I could do to get rid of the pain."
For two years Margie saw a pain management physician. But by the end of that time period, with the pain in her leg worse than the pain in her back, the regimen of pain pills was causing her more alarm than comfort. She was taking multiple drugs, including oxycodone and morphine for breakthrough pain. "I thought I'd be dead if it continued," she says. "I was pretty much living from one pill to the next. I lived for weekends so that I didn't have to get dressed and I could just lie on the couch."
Margie had reached the point of no return when she finally found herself sitting in the office of Dr. Charles Kuntz, IV, a Mayfield Clinic specialist who has built a national reputation performing complex spinal reconstruction surgery, sometimes over a period of two days. "I read up on Dr. Kuntz and realized he was one of the best doctors I was going to find," Margie says.
Dr. Kuntz studied Margie's scans, met with her, and told her he thought he could help her. "But he didn't promise," Margie says. "He gave me 70 percent odds that he could help me. I wasn't real thrilled with that, but as things were, I had no quality of life."
Both Margie and Dr. Kuntz knew she was headed for an ordeal, one that would require a long period of rehabilitation.
Dr. Kuntz performed the complex spinal surgeries in two segments at the University of Cincinnati Medical center. Margie convalesced in the UC Medical Center's neuroscience intensive care unit for three days after the first surgery, then remained in the hospital for another week after the second.
"I was in hospital for 13 days total," she recalls. "I remember very little of being in the ICU. After I was transferred to another room, I began walking every day. The pain in my leg was gone right away, but I was in a lot of pain from the surgeries, and I was still in a lot of pain when I came home. I stayed on drugs for two months after I got home. Finally I weaned myself off the medications completely."
Margie followed her recovery instructions to a "T." She wore a back brace for three months after surgery, even showering in the brace. If she had to get up at night, her husband got up and assisted her to the bathroom. Her top priority was to avoid a fall that might compromise her recovery. "I still worry that I'm going to fall and do something to my back," Margie says. "I still have a little trouble walking on uneven surfaces. So I'm very careful, very cautious. And I don't lift anything over 50 pounds."
In retrospect, Margie recovered more quickly than anticipated. Within 2 to 3 months she was back to the active routine that she enjoyed before hurting herself at the museum, doing aerobics and light upper body weights at the gym several times a week.
"I'm happy as I can be," Margie says. "I came back when no one thought I would. Not many days go by when I don't think of Dr. Kuntz. He saved my life. With all of the pain meds I was on, I don't think I could be alive today if I had continued down that path."
Hope Story Disclaimer -"Margie'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.
"I came back when no one thought I would. Not many days go by when I don't think of Dr. Kuntz. He saved my life. With all of the pain meds I was on, I don't think I could be alive today if I had continued down that path."