Back surgery gone bad

Each year, 600,000 Americans undergo spine surgery – part of the $30 billion we spend on back pain care. But before you go under the knife, there are some important questions to ask.

Rick Greenwood thought surgery would relieve his back pain, but it instead left him paralyzed. The 67 year old developed a blood clot after having a battery-powered stimulator implanted next to his spinal cord.

“My whole focus was getting off pain meds, cause it was ruining my life,” said Rick. “Did we check it maybe as thorough as we needed to on the side effects…no.” Rick and his wife, Debbie, encourage others to ask tough questions before surgery.

“Questions would be more about specifically how many surgeries have you done like this?  What are the guidelines out there for physicians? What happens if something goes wrong?” said Debbie.

A Duke study shows that one in every 100 spinal stimulator patients experience some spinal nerve damage. Dr. Stephen Tolhurst, with the Texas Back Institute, said, “I think people need to be mindful of physicians and surgeons who are well-trained, and to investigate their training.”

The Texas Back Institute, which had nothing to do with Rick’s surgery, routinely offers patient advocates for surgery candidates.

Cheryl Zapata, a Patient Advocate at the Texas Back Institute, said, “If you don’t have a good understanding of your risks and rewards of surgery then you haven’t done enough research.”

Other questions to ask:
-Is my surgeon board-certified and fellowship-trained?
-How long has my surgeon been performing this procedure?
-What is the success rate?
-Will anyone assist my surgeon and if so, how are they trained?
-What are the risks?
-Are there other non-surgical options?

“I’m hoping that this will help people feel more comfortable in researching and asking the questions,” said Rick. “You just gotta hang in there.” Rick hopes the right questions will prevent others from suffering like he did.

Other risks of back surgery include a reaction to anesthesia, bleeding, infection, blood clots, nerve damage and a heart attack or stroke.

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