By Sara Dollar, Emory Orthopaedics & Spine Center patient
At the age of 12, I started seeing a chiropractor. In my early teenage years, I was diagnosed with severe scoliosis. Doctors told me that by the time I reached the age of 45, I might not be able to breathe if the scoliosis got bad enough. My spine was shaped like a perfect “S.” I had my first surgery in 1977, followed by several more surgeries. Surgery after surgery left me in excruciating pain. I lived my life, but because my spine was stuck in a bad position, I walked crooked, I couldn’t stand up straight, I couldn’t walk my dogs, and I couldn’t walk five feet without my back spasming. I had become like a hermit crab.
In September 2014, I was referred to John M. Rhee, MD, a spinal surgeon at the Emory Orthopaedic & Spine Center, because I had a very delicate problem that my former surgeons could not handle. Dr. Rhee explained to me what could be done, and I was so excited that I wanted to have surgery on the same day as my office visit! But because my problem was very severe, and the required surgery would be complex, Dr. Rhee asked me to go home and discuss this with my family. I was so grateful for this! After much thought, I decided to have surgery – a lumbar osteotomy, which is a major operation done only at highly- specialized spine centers, like Emory, because of its complexity.
I had done so much research on Emory and Dr. Rhee that even before my first scheduled appointment I knew that I had made the right decision. I felt comfortable. Before I went into surgery, I made some goals that I wanted to attain after my procedures: mainly, I just wanted to live without pain. I am happy to say that Dr. Rhee helped me achieve this!
I had two planned surgeries to correct my severe scoliosis and kyphosis. They were done on January 22 and 23, 2015. Compression on the nerves had to be relieved along with fusion and correction of the deformed areas of the spine. My previous hardware had to be removed and repositioned properly, and a wedge of bone was removed from one of my vertebrae in order to realign my spine so I could stand up straight again. This was a major procedure because I had had multiple prior surgeries that left my spine severely deformed.
At my six week checkup, I was walking without any assistance from a cane, walker or person. I think I surprised Dr. Rhee with how well I was doing and how quickly I had recovered.
While I am still healing, I am not in any pain and am accomplishing all of my goals. I wanted to walk down my long driveway – I can now. I wanted to be able to walk down the beach – I can now. I wanted the freedom of walking into a store to grab some milk and bread without needing or using a shopping cart – I can now. When the time comes, I want to run after my future grandchildren, and because of my surgery, I believe I will be able to.
My advice to others considering spine surgery; do not be afraid, stop living in pain, quit suffering and get your good quality of life back. Surgery is not the answer for everyone, but if it is, I would not trust anyone other than the renowned spine surgeons at Emory Orthopaedic & Spine Center. Thanks to them, I am living well and attaining my goals.
About Dr. Rhee
John M. Rhee, MD, is a Spinal Surgeon and Associate Professor of Orthopaedic Surgery specializing in cervical spine surgery, lumbar spine surgery, complex spinal deformity surgery (scoliosis and kyphosis) and surgery for spinal tumors. Dr. Rhee is an active researcher and sought-after teacher/lecturer at the national and international level in multiple medical societies. He has served as faculty and been an invited lecturer at numerous meetings and courses on spine surgery. In addition, he has served as Program Chairman at numerous national and international spine surgery meetings. Dr. Rhee has also published extensively in a number of peer reviewed journals and books, and he has received numerous awards and honors. He is actively involved the training of international research scholars and other spinal surgeons and has been the author and editor of major textbooks on spine surgery techniques.