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Cervical Herniated Discs
Christmas 2004 is a holiday season Jerilyn always will remember well. It marked the first time in almost 15 years she was able to decorate the family tree without having to spend the next day nursing a debilitating flare-up of severe neck pain.
"I remember commenting to my husband that it was so nice to be able to hang all the ornaments and not regret it the day after," says the active 53-year-old wife, mom, and office manager from Sycamore, Georgia. "And I really enjoyed being able to actually look up at the tree again to see what I was doing."
Jerilyn recalls that when her neck pain first started, it felt like a mild muscle spasm. "It got progressively worse over the years, to the point where I just couldn't stand it," she says. "Later on, it was more of a burning sensation that also extended down into my shoulders; I eventually developed muscle weakness, lost mobility in my neck, and started to have really severe headaches."
As the years passed, Jerilyn's pain and discomfort began to greatly interfere with her ability to do the things she loved, such as flower gardening, shopping with her friends and family, and managing the Turner County offices of the State of Georgia's Division of Family and Children Services.
"Lifting anything, even a shovelful of dirt or a carton of Cokes, would set off the pain in my neck and shoulders," she says. "And it got to where it affected every aspect of my life – my social life changed, I was taking a lot of sick leave at work and I was spending less time with my family. I went into a depression and spent a lot of time just lying in bed with a heating pad."
Diagnostic testing, including x-rays and magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), eventually revealed the cause of Jerilyn's pain to be a herniated disc between the C6 and C7 vertebrae of her cervical spine. This is a condition in which the inner core of the disc bulges out through a tear in the disc. If the disc material presses on a spinal nerve, it can cause pain, numbness, and weakness, both in the neck and other parts of the body.
Working with her family doctor, Jerilyn tried a number of non-surgical therapies in an attempt to manage her pain, none of which provided any permanent relief. "I took muscle relaxers and both over-the-counter and prescription pain medications, but all those did was make me sleepy and feel not so good," she says. "I had many physical therapy sessions, and went to a chiropractor, as well. But I just couldn't get any satisfactory relief."
With neck pain such a constant presence in her life, Jerilyn was always on the alert for any mention of a therapy or treatment that might be able to help her. She'd also started considering the possibility of spine surgery. One Sunday after church, she struck up a conversation with a fellow congregant who had recently undergone cervical spine surgery, and whose husband was also recovering from back surgery. "I told her about my neck," Jerilyn says. "And she told me, 'You ought to go see the surgeon who treated me – I really believe he could help you, too.'"
First thing Monday morning, Jerilyn called the surgeon her friend had recommended: Dr. J. Kenneth Burkus with the Hughston Orthopedic Hospital in Columbus, Georgia, and made an appointment to consult with him regarding her surgical treatment options. "I took my previous diagnostic tests with me, and Dr. Burkus examined me and took some x-rays of his own," Jerilyn recalls.
"After looking at the results, he said he thought I could benefit from spine surgery. But, he never pushed it on me or said it was my only option. The decision was up to me. I told him I was ready to do whatever was necessary to finally get some relief."
When Jerilyn met with Dr. Burkus to discuss her treatment options, she decided to participate in a clinical study for the Prestige® Cervical Disc, an artificial disc with a ball-and-trough design. As a study participant, she had a 50-50 chance of either receiving the disc or undergoing traditional spinal fusion. "Of course, I was a little leery at first, and was undecided about what to do – I didn't know anything about the Prestige Disc before I met Dr. Burkus," Jerilyn admits. "But I liked what Dr. Burkus told me about the device. So, I just decided to take a chance – I felt like it was what I needed to do."
To replace Jerilyn's damaged intervertebral disc with the Prestige Disc – a procedure called cervical artificial disc replacement – Dr. Burkus made a small incision in the front of her neck and created a narrow opening through the muscles for access to the cervical vertebrae. He then removed the damaged disc material pressing on Jerilyn's spinal nerves and causing her painful symptoms through the opening, inserted the Prestige Disc, and then closed the incision. The procedure was performed under general anesthesia, and Jerilyn was released from the hospital 2 days after her surgery.
"I was told the surgery went very well," Jerilyn says. "Dr. Burkus replaced the disc and told my husband it had been almost completely worn away; what was left was practically just bone against bone. No wonder I was hurting so badly!"
For 2 weeks following her procedure, Jerilyn wore a soft cervical collar around her neck, which provided extra stability while her treated vertebral segment healed. "My recovery went very well, I think; I was in very little pain," she says. "I was told to do a lot of walking, and that really helped. I started walking right after I got home, even with the collar on. I took a few weeks of sick leave from work, then went back part-time for a while before getting back up to full speed."
Within a few months, Jerilyn says, life was good again. “By the time of my last follow-up, I had no limits, as far as the surgical site or the Prestige Disc were concerned. I was able to do anything I wanted, and without any pain. To me, that was wonderful!"
Today, Jerilyn says she is so grateful for the opportunity to have had cervical artificial disc surgery with the Prestige Disc that she's become an outspoken "ambassador" for the device. "I'm so glad it's been (FDA) approved and is available to everyone now," she says. "Because it worked so well for me, I'd definitely recommend it to anyone who has the same kind of problems I did. In fact, I encouraged a man here in Turner County who'd been having problems for years to go see Dr. Burkus, and he did. He had surgery a few months back, and is now doing very well."
This story reflects one person's experience. Not every person will receive the same results. Talk to your doctor about your treatment options.