Minimally Invasive Surgery for Spinal Stenosis Gives Robin Her Life Back

For 18 months, I had been suffering extremely severe right leg pain. I couldn’t walk or stand up straight without experiencing intense pain that started around my hip and traveled all the down my leg into my heel. Honestly, it was incapacitating. I felt pain all the time and I had to walk in a bent-over fashion constantly.

Any time my body was straight, there was pain; which meant that I couldn’t find relief from my pain even while I was sleeping. As a matter of fact, the pain I would experience while laying flat in bed at night was so bad that I was forced to get up and sleep in a chair or lay on an enormous stack of pillows just to dull the pain enough for me to get a couple hours of rest.

Medication didn’t stop my pain either, I found that it only dulled my senses, made me drowsy and wasn’t enough to address the pain I was feeling throughout my lower back and legs.

Trying to Manage the Pain

Around this time, I decided to go see a pain management specialist. They took an MRI of my back and found that I had profound spinal stenosis caused by a bulging disc that was pushing on a nerve at the L3 vertebrae in my lower back. The stenosis had become so bad that the opening around my nerve roots was so small it was almost nonexistent; especially when I was standing straight.

My pain management specialist gave me shots in the affected area of my spine. They were slightly successful and took me out of constant pain, but I still couldn’t stand up straight or walk for long periods of time. This meant that I was literally forced to sit in a chair for hours upon end simply to avoid experiencing pain. This was especially tough because walking is my primary form of exercise and a key part of my work.

I’m a former practicing internal medicine physician. In my job now I visit hospitals that train young physicians to give them feedback on their healthcare quality and patient safety practices. This being the case, I’ve spent my fair share of time around the healthcare industry and I know the risks that are involved in spine surgery. Plus, I’ve already had two previous back surgeries to correct other problems in my spine, one of which resulted in complications. I really didn’t want to undergo surgery again.

But after trying pain management and not having a sustained relief from my leg pain, I knew that I needed to see a neurosurgeon. So I started doing research online and asked a few colleagues for recommendations. I found the top spine surgeons in my area, read through their websites, reached out to people for their recommendations and read reviews until I had finally narrowed it down to three doctors. At this point I went to interview each of them to see which would be the best for addressing my particular condition.  

Choosing a Spine Surgeon

When I walked through the doors of Atlantic Brain and Spine, before I had even met Dr. Lim, I was blown away. First, I noticed that the office is extremely efficient and the staff are beyond friendly. Somehow they made me feel comfortable even when I was suffering and in extreme amounts of pain.

I know from personal experience that physicians are very busy people so I think a support staff says a lot about who the physician is and if you can feel comfortable putting your wellbeing into their hands. Everyone I interacted with at Atlantic Brain and Spine was absolutely wonderful and made me feel as if Dr. Lim was an honest and trustworthy person.

Second, every other surgeon I spoke with wanted to put in implants in my spine and do all kinds of surgery, but not Dr. Lim. During our initial consultation, after he had spent some time looking at my MRI, Dr. Lim turned and said to me, “We can do this in a minimally invasive technique.” He didn’t mention implants, not even once. When I asked him about it he said, “Why would I do that? I believe in the least amount of surgery possible and I’m not going to do anything excessive or unnecessary. I’m going to go in, find the problem, fix it, and get out.”

As someone who does a lot of work around patient safety, that was huge.

Finally, I was incredibly impressed by the way that Dr. Lim took the time to talk to me and thoroughly explain everything that he wanted to do during surgery. Obviously, I don’t know anything about neurosurgery, but he understood that hearing his explanation, thought process and treatment plan was very important to me.

So I decided to have my spinal stenosis corrected by Dr. Lim.

The Surgery

In the weeks leading up to the surgery, Dr. Lim made me feel extremely confident that he knew what he was doing, that he was going to do what was necessary to relieve my pain and that he was going to be successful.

Like anyone about to undergo surgery, I was definitely nervous, but during our consultations we had discussed thoroughly the possibility of every outcome, both good and bad, and I thought they were dead on and very realistic. I felt that he was truly honest with me and, as someone who has experienced disappointing surgeries in the past, I was incredibly grateful for that. I felt like I was walking into the operating room prepared and confident that Dr. Lim had a plan and that I was going to have a positive outcome.

I had my surgery in December of 2016. It was a combination of discectomy and laminectomy. Dr. Lim went through a small incision in my lower back, identified the affected disc and nerve roots, removed part of disc that was causing problems and opened up bone area that was causing issues. Then, he accessed my spine through the other side, just to ensure that there weren’t any problems there.

That was it. Just like he said, he got in and got out.

My New, Pain-Free Life

The moment I woke up, I knew instantly that the pain was gone. I was lying flat on the bed which, only days before, would have caused me unbearable pain, but no more.

Almost immediately I started rehabilitating and building up my strength through walking. Within three weeks of my surgery I was walking 2.5 miles a day and within six weeks I was back at work, pain free.

I got my life back. Nine months after my surgery, I’m back to doing everything I was doing before spinal stenosis was a problem in my life. I can walk 5-6 miles without a problem and I can do my work completely pain-free.

This is a picture of me in Greece this summer. A trip I had to cancel the previous year because of debilitating pain.

I would absolutely recommend Dr. Lim to anyone who was suffering from spinal stenosis, or any spinal condition for that matter. As a matter of fact, I have already done so. The efficiency and friendliness of his staff is so comforting, that paired with his honesty, forthrightness and willingness to take the time to have a discussion with me really helped me feel confident in his surgical skill and feel assured about the outcome.

I’m really, really happy that Atlantic Brain and Spine was around when I needed them.

Robin J.

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Atlantic Brain and Spine A graduate of both Yale and Stanford, Dr. Jae Lim is a board-certified spine surgeon who specializes in minimally invasive spine surgery and robotic spine surgery, significantly reducing surgical impact and recovery times. (703) 876-4270
8501 Arlington Blvd. Suite 330
United States
Jae Y. Lim Ben L. Nguyen