Artificial Disc - David DVM

I was so fortunate to receive Dr. Bertagnoli’s help in alleviating pain from an injury that occurred twenty years before the surgery. He placed two ProDisc-2 ADRs at C5-C6 and C6-C7.

My memory is vivid of the fall from the inspection stand at work with the 200 lb. hog carcass in 1987. I came to on the wet floor with scalding water splashing on my chest from the sanitizer basin above and the hog carcass across both thighs. My chin was pressed tight against my chest and the back of my head was hard against the next inspection stand. I was dazed standing up, but seemed in one piece. The back of my head was hurting terribly. I hurt all over my body. I changed clothes and finish out the workday.

At the hospital emergency unit that evening, I was bruised and hurting in so many places. The doctor noted serious bruising to the back of my head even though my hardhat stayed on. With all the bruising over my body but no broken bones, I was advised I would be sore and see more bruising in the next few days.

That was the beginning of “chronic pain” that included carpal tunnel surgery, tennis elbow surgery, a dozen different kinds of hand and arm splints, back braces, TENS units, and a lost career when doctors couldn’t find an etiology for my “problems”. I had radiographs, MRI’s, bone scans, nerve conductions, EMG’s for virtually every part of my spine and limbs – EXCEPT on my neck! Sad but true, my neck was not considered part of the damage. I even spent a night in cardiac intensive care that, in retrospect from the discography, was severe pain out of my neck.

My medical record became folders thick and all symptoms were bilateral: Carpal tunnel, DeQuarvain’s, tennis elbow, and other maladies. Surgeries were only on the right arm and hand – which failed to give improvement. Throughout the experience, dozens of psychological tests were requested to demonstrate my pain was just in my head. There was no evident physical or psychological pain element.

I had trouble using my hands; I held a pen with my fist. I was not unable to button shirts or zip my pants, but I managed to work even when I hurt in every part of my body. I would stumble from shivering with severe chills some nights on the way back to the warm covers after a bathroom trip. There were headaches and neck pain. There were more “sore throats” than I can count. The doctors would not see any throat redness or infection. I had ear pain and headaches but the head scans did not show any problems with sinuses or any other part of my head. One occupational medicine practitioner said in anger to my face that I was a psycho because the physical or psychological etiology was not evident to him. I was wasting their valuable medical resources.

I was finally able to convince a general practitioner that the problems were possibly from my cervical spine. After my first cervical MRI, the GP referred me to Mayo Clinic for neurosurgery. Mayo Clinic agreed with the GP’s MRI interpretation but did not have a surgical treatment since there were at least four levels of damage in the cervical spine. Fusing two levels would be the limit and actually aggravate the others. Yes, the hand and arm symptoms were coming out of the spine. Mayo Clinic attempted several pain therapies with anti-epileptic drugs – without success.

I was cocooning and withdrawing from life. Every day was pain and depression. I did give suicide a thought or two but somehow moved on. I used a portable recliner to take the stress off my neck and relieve a little pain. I attended veterinary conferences and traveled with the folding recliner for a few years through airports and all. Before having the recliner, I was often found lying on the floor in airport terminals between flights or in the back of conference rooms.

I was relieved when my supervisor stated in February 2005: “You aren’t getting anything productive done here anymore.” Management demoted me from a Veterinary Medical Officer to file clerk when travel became impractical and inspection-report writing was nearly impossible. I was becoming unable to pull file drawers open and lift file folders in and out for filing. I lay on the floor during office meetings and hardly ever joined in going out to lunch with colleagues. Sleep only lasted an hour at a stretch at night. I was utterly miserable and the folks I was working with had had enough.

Good things began to happen after that. I was able to begin an early retirement annuity rather than disability pension. Mayo Clinic advised there was nothing else to do for my pain. I contacted other spine centers. Dr. Delamarter in Santa Monica advised me that I needed Dr. Bertagnoli’s surgery or make plans for using a walker in the near future. The discography ordered was positive at the “10” levels of pain in ¾ of the damaged discs. The fourth disc was a “nine”. The levels included a ruptured disc. I knew from each injection where all the different pains had come from since 1987. The headaches, arm and hand pain/numbness, sore throats, chest pains and other pains that the physicians could not establish a diagnosis for. The pains had not been in my head!

We arrived at St. Elizabeth’s Klinkum in Straubing for two level ADR surgery in December 2006. Judy and I were soon put at ease with the helpfulness and care of the staff and nurses. It all seemed to like a wonderfully good contagion infecting everyone working with Dr. Bertagnoli.

I got back to my room around 6:30pm and around 8:00pm was set up for a liquid meal. I did not sleep the entire night and was able to see the stars from my bed with none of my arm and hand pain that had developed over twenty years. I found a nice position to rest face down for the first time in years. The next morning I was ready for the soft breakfast of jello, yogurt, and ice cream! The Germans have a very nice custom that includes ice cream any meal if you like and yogurt, too. After breakfast was finished, the nurse put a waterproof patch over the incision and pointed to the shower without the collar. I had neck motion and very little pain with the analgesic and muscle relaxant prescribed.

The third morning Judy and I walked about ½ mile from the hospital to the hotel. We were elated at the outcome of the surgery and the simplicity of the after care. The journey home several days later was harder on Judy than on me. I was not having any of the travel problems I had before surgery.

Over the two years since surgery, I have regained essentially all hand and arm function. My depression has eased and Judy has told others many times how I am a different person. She is an angel to have stayed with me through those twenty years of pain.

We are working on developing my veterinary practice for aquatic animals. Judy is my right hand person now just as she was many years ago in the small animal practice. In 2008 we were able to spend six weeks in Kazakhstan. We walked and took busses. We each held conversational English classes at one of the universities. That experience would not have been possible without Dr. Bertagnoli doing a two-hour surgery in December of 2006.

Thank you, Dr. Bertagnoli and team, with all my heart for the relief and new chance at life.

David S. DVM

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