Bones, Muscles & Joints (Orthopaedics)
James Johnson-Spinal Surgery
New York native James Johnson's hard days at work always started with a long walk toward the job where he proudly toiled to support his family. But then his life changed: He developed a back problem so severe that he could not enjoy his relaxing walks or stand up straight, let alone take care of his family.
"I was in constant pain from the moment I opened my eyes in the morning," James says. "Being there for my kids is important to me because I basically grew up without a father. But I got to the point where I was grouchy. I couldn't work or do things with my family. I couldn't even pick up or play with my young children. I visited several doctors, but they said there wasn't anything they could do to help."
James became so discouraged about his condition that he had given up hope, until his primary care physician referred to him to a spine specialist at Montefiore Medical Center. "Mr. Johnson had a condition that caused one of the bones in his spine to slip forward onto the bone below it, pressing on the nerve and causing excruciating pain," says Alok Sharan, MD, chief of the Orthopedic Spine Service at Montefiore and assistant professor at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine.
"Mr. Johnson just wanted a second chance at life - and we wanted to give him that chance."
A team of specialists, including orthopedic spine specialists, vascular surgeons, anesthesiologists, nurses, physical therapists and others collaborated on James' care at Montefiore's Jack D. Weiler Hospital of the Albert Einstein College of Medicine. They developed a treatment plan and worked with James and his family to ensure that it was followed so that he could live the active life that he had lived previously.
"It takes a whole team to get a good outcome and make a difference in our patients' lives," says Dr. Sharan. "Our multidisciplinary experts work together to provide coordinated, patient-centered care. Spine surgery is not for every patient; our goal is to select the right procedure for the right patient and to help them regain their function as quickly and completely as possible."
His condition was severe enough to require a complex two-step procedure to stabilize his spine. It involved placing titanium screws into the vertebrae and then fusing them together from the front and back. Dr. Sharan and his team used minimally invasive surgical techniques and innovative mapping technology found in very few hospitals nationwide to ensure that no nerve damage would occur during the procedure.
These physicians routinely perform spinal fusions as well as decompressive spinal surgery for both the neck and back. After the surgery the clinical team worked with James to help him recover, ensuring that his pain level was as low as possible. Physical therapists at Montefiore worked with James to help him regain strength in his back and torso muscles, ensuring a faster and more productive recovery.
James says he's made amazing progress. He can stand up straight for the first time in five years. He feels so much better that he's able to pursue his lifelong passion for walking. Before his back started bothering him, James walked about seven miles a day from Manhattan to the Bronx or uptown from Washington Heights. He started walking again after recovering from his surgery and is now able to walk four to five miles a day.
"I can walk down the street or go to the park with my kids," James says. "I was even able to walk my daughter to school on her first day of kindergarten. I get emotional thinking about what my life was like before Dr. Sharan and his team treated me. The care here changed my life, and the staff gave me hope when no one else would. Montefiore gave me a new lease on life and gave my family back the dad I used to be."