That’s what I can say about my experience with Dr. Bertagnoli and Pro-Spine.
I was a competitive cyclist for my entire life. That means I spent a lot of time with my back in a flexed position. Over the years I suffered several back injuries and like most people, time and therapy resolved them. I had been researching artificial discs in the lumbar spine for a few years hoping that it would become available here in the US before I needed it. My discs were deteriorating as I got older to the point where two vertebrae were starting to “auto fuse”. I had a lot of scoliosis and spondylolisthesis. Finally I herniated a disc causing sciatic pain down my leg. I had to undergo a laminectomy which failed (the disc re-herniated almost immediately). That meant the only option was to fuse two levels of my lumbar spine in order to stabilize it. The Dr. seemed to think that it would not cause me further problems once fused. That was totally wrong! Within a few months I was experiencing radiating pain in my other leg which led me to believe that the surrounding discs were failing due to the added stress the fusion was transferring to them. I resumed my research for artificial lumbar disc replacement. I found one surgeon that mentioned the procedure here in the US but his experience was limited (300) procedures and due to FDA restrictions was only possible for one level using a disc that may not be the best. I found Professor Dr. Rudolph Bertagnoli on the Pro-Spine website and everything I read told me that this was the man who I could trust to help me. He had much experience with difficult, complicated back surgeries including working around fusions and multilevel implants. Formerly an engineer, he developed the disc that he prefers to use, the tools involved and the procedure to successfully implant discs. He is at the top of his field. He teaches others around the world how to do his procedure and lectures on spine surgery all over the world. This was the guy for me!
Like others, I had to cash in a retirement plan to pay cash for this surgery since insurance would not cover it. I felt my life would be worthless in retirement without having decent health (a healthy back). The price was not cheap but compared to something similar in the US I think it was a very good value. I mailed the cash to his account as indicated and made an appointment to go to Bogen Germany to have the procedure.
Traveling to Bogen by train from Munich was no problem although I was a bit apprehensive. We booked a small “Airbnb” apartment with the plan of spending my second week there as I recovered. Next morning we walked to the clinic. Bogen is a small town, more of a suburb of Straubing I believe. I was checked into the hospital and went through some preliminary exams and questioning. The staff explained how the procedure would go and how the recovery would be handled in the hospital. The one thing that caused a concern was that I had omitted the detail that I had a defibrillator/pacemaker. I thought I had explained that in my letters but apparently not. Once they were satisfied that they could deactivate the device they were comfortable and prepared to go ahead with the surgery the following morning. M Meeting Professor Dr. Bertagnoli completely alleviated any concerns I had about the procedure. The man has a quiet, confidence that assured me that he was capable of doing the operation. Because it would be a lengthy operation his only concern was how I would react under sedation for a long period of time. If I tolerated it well he could do the entire procedure in one day. If not he would have to suspend the procedure and continue it a few days later.
Early the next morning they wheeled me into surgery…….That evening I came around in the ICU where I would be monitored until morning. The surgery took 71/2 hours! They (Dr. Bertagnoli and his assistants) did a marathon job and were able to do the entire procedure in one session….Thank God! Dr Bertagnoli started by opening my back and removing the fusion hardware (I no longer needed it since I was successfully fused). He then installed a “motion coupler” to stabilize my L1-L2 disc (it would not be replaced). The motion coupler looks a bit like a spring suspension but should assist in the movement of my vertebrae without wearing the disc as much as might be the case without it. After that procedure they turned me over and Dr. Bertagnoli proceeded to open me through the abdomen in two places to replace one disc below my fusion and one disc above the fusion.
I was wheeled down to my hospital room the next morning. Recovery consisted of sleeping, eating and walking. They had me up and walking that first day out of surgery and during the first walk I could tell that I was moving better than when I came in. I was even able to walk up and down stairs with little problem. During the week I increased my walk from once or twice a day to several walks every few hours. The food was different but OK. I had some pain from the incisions but that was expected and it was tolerable. On the first night in the room they gave me a cup with pain pills that I was to take at about midnight. I was afraid I would sleep through that and asked them to keep them and come and wake me when it was time to take them. I think that instruction was lost in translation since they never came back with the medication and I was in some pain by morning. All was solved with another dose of pain meds that morning.
The hospital at the clinic in Bogen was quite a change from what I was familiar with in the US. First of all it is kept amazingly clean! The hallways are fairly dark and the whole place is very quiet. Even the nurses’ station was behind glass and so I never heard noise in the hallways like is normal in the US where buzzers and bells are constantly ringing and foot traffic is constant with staff conversing outside the door etc. Very restful!
After a week at the hospital I was allowed to convalesce at the Airbnb apartment that we rented. I walked the mile through town to the apartment with little problem. I spent the next week sleeping, reading eating and walking. I walked a mile or more twice a day around Bogen. There is not a lot to see or do in Bogen. We frequented the two bakeries for coffee etc. and walked the length and breadth of the town. It was November and early December and things were still fairly green and not too cold although they had a little snow one evening. After a week and an X ray to confirm that everything was in place and working properly I was allowed to return home. We had been on vacation for 10 days before arriving in Bogen so we had two fairly heavy bags to transport home. Lifting them was not an option for me in my condition so the staff at the clinic made arrangements with “Peter” to drive us to the airport in Munich. It was a lovely ride. Peter does this all the time and he confirmed the success rate of patients that he drove over the years. He put the bags on a luggage trolley at the airport and we didn’t need to touch them again. We had someone pick us up at the airport once home.
It has now been one year since my surgery. After six months of limiting my activity to daily living, I started again with athletic training including gym work and cycling. After 12 months I am doing most everything I did before I had my first surgery with the exception of supporting heavy weights on my shoulders. My strength is almost where it was pre-surgery and endurance is about the same. Flexibility is normal although still a bit limited from my fusion. I am able to work hard with no problems from my back. It is all I could have hoped for!
In closing I have to say that I think Professor Dr. Bertagnoli is truly a genius in his ability to take on complicated surgeries like mine with successful outcomes. His skill as a surgeon In closing I most strongly recommend Professor Dr. Bertagnoli. I cannot over state this. I think Professor Dr. Bertagnoli’s skill as a surgeon is unquestionably superior to most spine surgeons. He has proven success with difficult, complicated procedures that other doctors would probably not attempt. His background as an engineer means he is able to understand the spine’s structure and function more completely that other surgeons. This is why he designed and uses the particular prosthetic disc. His ability to design specific tools to perform the surgery is also why he is a leader in the field of spine surgery. After doing my research I decided that Dr. Bertagnoli was THE surgeon that I wanted to handle my case. Upon meeting him, his calm confident demeanor assured me I was correct. The fact that he teaches his procedure to other surgeons is reassuring. It means that what he has learned will go on to progress the field of spinal surgery. I understand that in the US it is the FDA and the health insurance industry that prevents this type of surgery from being offered to patients. That is wrong of course and goes to show how far behind our medical system is in some of the developing treatments. That is a tragedy!
The entire experience with Pro-Spine and Dr. Bertagnoli’s staff was positive. It was a miracle for me! If you have to have spine surgery I strongly recommend that you consult with Pro-Spine before proceeding with any surgery.
Feel free to consult me if you have any reservations.
Sincerely…..and very happily!