Kay Mercogliano doesn't like to sit on the sidelines. The 60-year-old retired social worker and marriage counselor has always led an active life of volunteer work, horseback riding, billiards, bowling and long walks with her husband, Anthony. But persistent and worsening back pain was making it increasingly difficult for Mercogliano to do the things she loved, and this Dumfries resident feared surgery was inevitable. "I tried every alternative to avoid surgery - physical therapy, aquative exercise, acupuncture, spinal injections and nerve blocks," she says. "Nothing worked."
Eventually, Mercogliano met with Jae Lim, MD, a neurosurgeon specially trained in spine surgery who practices at Inova Fairfax Hospital, to discuss her options. "His explanation of the procedure and benefits was the answer I was waiting to hear," she says.
Dr. Lim recommended minimally invasive spine surgery, a technologically advanced treatment that allows surgeons to perform complex procedures through small incisions, resulting in better patient outcomes. "Minimally invasive techniques are changing the landscape of spine surgery, converting what used to be large, open procedures with long incisions and lengthy recovery to a much less invasive experience, reducing surgical impact on the body and hastening the recovery process," says Dr. Lim.
Advantages of minimally invasive surgery include less blood loss and postoperative pain, shorter hospital stay, improved healing and faster recuperation - often just a few months rather than the longer periods typically required after conventional spine surgery.
"New tools and research have produced tremendous advances in surgical treatments for the spine in the last decade, and Inova offers the latest techniques available," says Ron Childs, MD, section chief, Spine Services, Inova Fairfax Hospital, who also performs minimally invasive spine surgery at Inova Fair Oaks Hospital. "We've been able to refine the procedure with better equipment, which makes the whole things safer."
Dr. Lim performed Mercogliano's minimally invasive laminectomy and fusion to remove a herniated disc and correct spondylosis (degenerative spinal arthritis), and stenosis (a restriction of the spinal cord), at Inova Fairfax Hospital in February. During a laminectomy, the surgeon widens the spinal canal, making more room for spinal nerves. Spinal fusion surgically combines two or more vertebrae. Two days following the surgery, she was back home. "I was amazed at how quickly I was able to leave the hospital and how smoothly my recovery is proceeding," she says.
After taking it easy for the first month, she's resumed her daily actives, including walking long distances. "My husband and I traveled to Virginia Beach in June and I was able to take a long walk with him on the beach. It was wonderful," she says. Physical therapy has helped her regain her strength. She now is able to enjoy again her aquatic exercise program.
Minimally invasive surgery is not for everyone, and doctors Lim and Childs stress the importance of talking to your physician about your options. "Back pain is common, but most gets better after a few weeks or months," Dr. Lim says. "If it doesn't, go see your doctor, and he or she can help you decide the best course of action."
Inova offers a complete spectrum of medical and therapeutic treatment alternatives to provide relief, ranging from physical therapy, to pain management services,
to online prevention programs such as My Strong Back. "It's important that patients take an active role in their treatment and recovery," says Dr. Childs. "That means exercising, losing weight if necessary, using good body mechanics and avoiding activities that provoke and weaken the spine."
If pain persists, minimally invasive spine surgery could be the answer, just as it was for Mercogliano. "I'm glad I waited for this opportunity to come along," she says. "It's great to get the pieces of my life back together."