Artificial Disc Replacement - San Francisco

Eliza Laffin
San Francisco, CA
email available upon request

My low back pain started when I was only 19. Over the next 10 years, my low back pain episodes increased in severity and frequency. In 2000, my primary care physician diagnosed Degenerative Disc Disease. In 2003, a low back episode began and became progressively worse until I could no longer work, or even sit in a chair. Between 2004 and 2006, I had three ruptured discs and two spinal surgeries. I lived in constant pain, taking narcotics and lying on the couch. I was told I needed to have a lumbar spinal fusion. I was only 36, afraid of adjacent degeneration, and unwilling to give up my mobility. A lifelong athlete and marathon runner, I couldn't imagine never being able to be active again. I began to research alternatives, and quickly came to believe that artificial disc replacement was my best shot at maintaining mobility and returning to any kind of a normal life.

While I had a spinal surgeon here in the US who would have performed the surgery, I knew the only variables I could control were my choice of prosthesis and my choice of surgeon. I felt strongly it would be foolish to entrust my spine to anyone but the best surgeon I could find -- particularly one with extensive multi-level experience, since I needed a 3-level replacement -- and that was Dr. Bertagnoli. The experience of traveling to Germany for such a major procedure was scary, but Dr. B and his staff at Pro-Spine were warm and welcoming and immediately put me at ease. I felt more like a guest than a patient. Dr. B spent a good 45 minutes with my family and me the day before my surgery, making sure all our questions were answered. The night after my surgery and the following day I don't really remember, but the day after that I was out of bed and walking around without help. Within 3 months I was more than ready to go back to work, and started sitting in the office chair I hadn't been able to sit in for more than 3 years. A few months after that I was completely drug-free, feeling great, and exercising regularly once again. And exactly one year after my surgery, I completed the AIDS Life/Cycle, a 7-day, 545-mile bicycle ride from San Francisco to Los Angeles to raise money for AIDS research and services. It was one of the hardest things I've ever done and I won't say it was a pain-free experience, but I did it! And while I won't ever run another marathon, I can still surf and snowboard -- and I can hardly believe it, after the years of pain and struggle I went through. There aren't words to express the depth of appreciation I feel for Dr. B, and Dr. Fenk-Mayer. How do you adequately thank the people who gave you your life back?

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