Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Have you hugged your spine surgeon today? Acts of kindness received from patient families. Fresh Scones, Travel Help, and a Boat Trip!

If any of you were worried, I wanted to reassure you that I did not fall of the face of the earth the last 2 weeks.....  I actually took off a week from work to visit some family down in Florida over spring break, and also get a chance to do some awesome bird watching, and take a walk or 2 on the beach.  

Just before I left for Florida, I got a very unexpected blessing from one of my scoliosis patients.   I was driving to work a day or two before vacation started, and at 6:58 am my phone rings, which is usually not good news.  I answered my phone, and Charlene, from southern Florida is on the phone.  

"My husband and I want to do something nice for you when you come to Florida.  We've done a lot of research to figure out the best way to see birds and other wildlife down in Sanibel Island."

"Charlene, you really don't have to do anything!"  I replied.

"Well, we've already decided to do it.  We've arranged and paid for your family to get a boat ride around the Sanibel Island area to see birds and other wildlife.  It is all arranged.  All you do is have to say "Yes!"

Well, I was very touched.  Charlene's husband is a very hard worker doing boat/ship engine repair and installation all over Florida, and he apparently helped make the arrangements.  

So when we got to Sanibel, Carmen the captain of the 30 foot boat contacted me, just as Charlene said. Unfortunately the weather didn't cooperate, since it was cold and very windy..... but I will still never forget the kindness of Charlene and her family to do such a kind thing for our family.

We had a nice visit with my in-laws in Boynton Beach, Florida, going out to dinner with family including "Great Gangi" who is just over a 100 years old, and doing great. She can't hear very well, but she walks around with walker, has a great big smile, and loves to see family.   I've done ACDF surgery and L45 spondylolisthesis surgery on my father-in-law, who is 71 and in awesome shape.  My mother-in-law had L45 spondylolisthesis surgery with me probably 14 years ago, and  she is also doing very well, dancing, and walking 5 miles a day, doing gardening and more.  My mother-in-law brought me her next door neighbor as a patient, who also had lumbar surgery with me...  Her next door neighbor, Mrs. A____ always makes me a big batch of cranberry scones when we come down to visit -- a real mini clinic, but not good for my low carb lifestyle!

My family and I also got a chance to go to a very cool bird sanctuary out on Sanibel Island called the "Ding", which I highly recommend.  I have a large group of scoliosis patients from southern Florida -- both adolescents and adults -- who got me some great info on where to go and where to stay!  Thanks everyone... we had an awesome trip!  If you plan ahead, you can show up at the Ding and one of the volunteer guides will take you and others around the 4 mile drive, stopping along the way to take a look.  They even let you use their high power telescope to see the birds from afar.  I learned that young bald eagles have different feathers that are bigger and heavier than fully adult birds, which make it easier for them to land, so they don't crash and hurt/kill themselves!  Great idea --- trainer wings for eagles!  It was a spectacular day to be out with all these beautiful birds.

Well, I've been back to work for a little over a week now, and things have been quite busy as usual.  I've seen several out of state adolescent scoliosis patients in for consultation -- the most recent was a nice 14 you young man and his dad who flew up from Tampa, FL area to see me.  He's got a 54 degree thoracic curve, and on forward bend had a lumbar hump, but on bending X-Rays that I got today showed them that the lumbar curve straightened out completely.  This was awesome news to the mom Cecilia when I did an internet X-Ray review for her, since she had been told that her son needed both the thoracic and lumbar curve corrected -- a bigger deal especially for her son who is avid tennis player.  

A few days before that, I saw a nice young lady from South Carolina, with a similarly sized curve with her family ---- they stayed a bit longer for the hospital tour with Holly, our Patient Navigator over at Duke Raleigh Hospital next door to Hey Clinic.  I got confirmation this week that of our adolescent scoliosis patients from Baton Rouge, La is coming for surgery.

Yesterday I straightened up a nice young lady from Chapel Hill who had an unusual double thoracic curve --- and got a very nice correction.  She's recovering well.  Mom appreciated the Navigator services, including allowing her to stay in Katherine's hospital room during her surgery.  That allowed mom to get a ton of work done for her realty business, and even take a little rest in the quiet big private room!  I've heard that before from other families --- surgery day can actually be very productive without the distractions of the office!

Today I did a big front and back (anterior/posterior) scoliosis correction for a 53 yo woman with severe flatback syndrome and degenerative scoliosis and stenosis.  This afternoon fixed a L45 spondylolisthesis with severe stenosis.  Both patients did well.  In between surgeries, I saw the family from Florida, and an 82 yo woman who had a horrible collapsing thoracolumbar kyphoscoliosis now doing super well a year out from surgery.  She just came in to talk about a new osteoporosis medication she'd like to try.  I used a new sublaminar fixation technique at the top of her construct which is less invasive and a little be more flexible to help prevent proximal junctional kyphosis.  It worked like a charm.

This past Friday I saw a bunch of postop patients in clinic doing really well, including Tim, who is my big Duke fan, who has the special U-Rod technology to solve his severe cervical kyphosis.

Tomorrow I have a big kyphosis surgery in the morning, and a smaller spondylolisthesis surgery in the afternoon.  I had several student shadowing meetings today, and had a great premed student from NC State hanging out with us in surgery.  I split my salad with him for lunch at 2pm after the front and back surgery and had a great talk about good reasons to go into medicine.  Breakfast with one sophomore pre-med, who worked with me last summer, and will do research and intern in my office this summer.   Another awesome student during the day and for lunch!  

Overall, it's been a great couple of weeks.  Last week we did two anterior/posterior scoliosis/kyphosis reconstructions including a Harrington Rod Flattback repair.  We used our new Truss technique at the bottom of both of these constructs across the lumbo-sacral junction ---> lessons learned through our biomechanical finite element analysis (FEA) research with Professor Mazzoleni and colleagues at NC State.  

Gotto go.  10:13pm and have to get up at 5 to exercise and get to the operating room.

Dr. Lloyd Hey

Friday, March 1, 2013

Kathy, 40 yo woman 6 weeks postop from her scoliosis surgery sends me a letter this afternoon...

Dr. Hey,
Today was a good day.  I left your office after we met again for my six-week post-op appointment and commenced on the two-hour trek back home to Jacksonville.  My husband and I talked about what a blessing you have been to our family during the entire trip, all the while gazing up at the Carolina blue sky and just being thankful.
A bit over six weeks ago, you spent four hours straightening my S-curved spine – four hours doing something another orthopedic surgeon told me would be too difficult to undertake anytime soon.  I understood from him a couple years ago that the parts of my vertebrae where the screws would be placed were too small for the typical posterior approach, that his anterior approach would be complicated and difficult.  I was advised to consider physical therapy, to take lots of vitamin D and keep my weight down, and when I couldn’t handle the pain anymore, to come back and he would do the surgery.  Quite the hopeless feeling, indeed. 
And then, we were introduced to you.  You see, God placed another former patient of yours in our path who would share his story with us and encourage us to seek you.  At my very first meeting with you, I was given something that no doctor had offered me before in respect to my scoliosis – and that was hope.  Even as an adolescent being recommended for a brace, I recall the doctors saying that it “may help” prevent the curves from progressing.  Then as an adult seeking help from chiropractors (“You’re too old for surgery”) to physical therapists (“This is a band-aid on an arterial bleed”) to finally a surgeon (“Come back when you can’t stand the pain anymore”), the hope was scarce to say the least.
From the very first meeting, you said, “We can fix this, we can get you straight!”  I remember the feeling of peace that overcame me in your office that December afternoon.  I left the facility, almost bouncing up the parking deck stairs with excitement, knowing God led me to that very location on that day to find relief from what was becoming a debilitating daily pain.
On the morning of surgery, you held our hands and offered a prayer before undertaking the task of doing something so many other people said couldn’t, or shouldn’t, be done.  To know that this brilliant and gifted surgeon is such a humble man of God has, since then, given both me and my husband an almost indescribable powerful sense of calmness and strength.  After surgery had ended, you can’t know what it meant to my husband when you talked with him personally, cheerfully sharing the “after” x-rays.  And again, a closing prayer of thanksgiving was a welcomed, necessary, and so deeply appreciated gift.
Not even a week later, when my post-operative pain took on a different characteristic that raised concern, my husband took a “shot in the dark” and called your cell phone that morning for guidance.  The most amazing thing happened – you answered!  “I’m getting ready to go into surgery, but what’s going on?” I could hear over the speaker.  Thank you, Dr. Hey, for your unprecedented level of care to all of your patients.
So here I am, wanting to let you know how thankful my family and I are to have found you.  And most importantly, I needed to put these thoughts into words to offer to you –
My daily 45-minute walk this afternoon was nothing short of a catharsis for me – one that had significant and profound meanings in multiple ways.  You see, looking back at the series of events that led me to you, I see God’s work.  But not only that, but something very amazing has also happened – this six-week period of quiet mornings and cozy afternoons has given me pause to refocus on the things that are truly important in life.  Yes, the recovery period definitely has had its share of muscle spasms, pain, sleepless nights, and medication fog, but it also offered the absence of work’s hustle-bustle, the excruciating commute, and daily missed lunch breaks.  It offered time to cuddle up with an inspirational book, time to have heart-to-heart chats with my husband (something we had missed for too long), and time to just simply be thankful that everything happens for a reason.  And you, happened, for more than one reason, Dr. Hey.
I knew that this surgery would realign my spine.  I knew that this surgery would give me more stamina to romp with my daughter in the fall leaves.  I knew that this surgery would allow me to stand for more 15 minutes at a time without having back or leg pain.  I knew that this surgery would virtually eliminate the growing ugly rib hump in my back that embarrassed me so. 
But there are also the things that I didn’t know this surgery would do for me – that have changed my life in their own momentous ways.
God bless you, your family, and your staff, Dr. Hey.  Thank you for being what I needed.  In so many ways.