By Renee Godley, patient at Emory Orthopaedic, Sports & Spine Center
In 1969, I had scoliosis surgery. During this surgery, my spine was fused and a Harington Rod was attached to the muscles in my spine. After the surgery, I was bedridden for six months and in a body casts for a total of nine months. I recovered well and learned how to live with my limitations.
In 1990, I started to suffer from lower back pain. I visited Emory Orthopaedic, Sports & Spine Center, in Atlanta, Georgia and I was informed that I needed to have additional surgery. The wear and tear on my lower three discs had progressed to the point that I would need to have them replaced and fused within 10 years. I said no immediately because I knew the process, I had a three year old daughter at home and I would again, be bedridden for three months and in a body cast that extended down to my right knee. I was unwilling to go through the process a second time. Fear lead me to that decision.
From 2007 until 2012 I saw a pain management orthopedist, which helped me to numb the pain. Then I was advised to see Emory Orthopaedic, Sports & Spine physician, Dheera Ananthakrishnan, MD. Fear once again took hold of me. I had done research and quickly realized I was suffering from Flat Back Syndrome. I read information about the surgeries (two, for a total of at least 12 hours), and started to panic. I finally reached the point where the pain was too much and I just couldn’t take it anymore. I did not want to have surgery and I did not know what to do.
My life had become very restrictive. I could no longer go out to eat or even sit on the living room couch for an extended period of time, rather I had to lie down to lessen the pressure on my spine. I loved attending Georgia football games and could no longer attend any games, the car ride, walk to the stadium and sitting in the stands were beyond my capabilities. I just could not go anymore. My husband wanted to go to the movies, and you guessed it, I could not; I couldn’t do anything.
After much fear, unbearable pain and many days and nights spent crying, my life would soon change. I was referred to Emory Spine Center to see Dr. Ananthakrishnan (Doctor A). Doctor A examined me and ran numerous tests and the diagnosis was, as predicted, Flat Back Syndrome. Although I did not want to have the surgeries, I had no choice. I was scheduled for surgery in December of 2012. For thirty days I was taken off my medications (anti-inflammatories) and realized just how disabled I had become. I was immobile, I couldn’t walk, much less do anything.
On, December 7, 2012, I had surgery at Emory University Orthopedics & Spine Hospital with Dr. Ananthakrishnan that included three replacement discs. A second surgery was held on December 11, 2012 where two rods and 16 one inch titanium screws were placed in my back.
Thanks to Dr. Ananthakrishnan, for the first time in 30 years, I had no pain in my back! This is the best feeling that I’ve felt since I met my husband and got married. Dr. A is a miracle worker. In the two years since my surgery I have begun to walk for exercise, averaging approximately five miles of exercise per day. I went from not walking at all to averaging over 70,000 steps per week.
Everyone I see can’t believe how good I look. I stand straight. I am no longer hunched over. When someone tells me they are experiencing back pain, the first thing I ask them is, “Have you gone to Emory yet?” I would not have the quality of life I have today without Dr. Ananthakrishnan.
A note from Dr. Dheera Ananthakrishnan
I vividly remember the first day that I met Mrs. Godley. She was still so traumatized from her scoliosis surgery all those years ago! I was very worried that she would have difficulty coping with such a large revision surgery. Was I ever wrong! She sailed through two really large surgeries, and has been a textbook patient, inspiring others to follow in her footsteps.
One of the great joys of performing surgery is to see how life-altering it can be for patients who have lived with disability and pain for a long time. Mrs. Godley embodies this for me. It has been my great pleasure to know her and care for her. Now the only tears that are shed during our visits are tears of joy.
About Dr. Ananthakrishnan
Dheera Ananthakrishnan, MD, trained with one of the pioneers of scoliosis surgery, Dr. David Bradford, at the University of California at San Francisco. After completion of her fellowship, Dr. Ananthakrishnan practiced orthopedic and spine surgery for over three years at the University of Washington in Seattle. In 2007, she left Seattle to work with Medecins Sans Frontieres/Doctors Without Borders in Port Harcourt, Nigeria. She then worked as a volunteer consultant at the World Health Organization in Geneva, Switzerland, before starting her position at Emory University. She maintains an interest in developing-world orthopedics through her non-profit, Orthopaedic Link, and is currently involved in projects in the Philippines, Nepal, and Bulgaria.
Dr. Ananthakrishnan’s practice focuses on adult scoliosis and degenerative conditions. She also treats adolescent spinal disorders as well as tumors and cervical conditions. She has been at the Emory Orthopaedic and Spine Center since 2007.