Susan Ryan went from being a vibrant, active athlete, to finding it difficult to even sit on the sidelines. For 13 years, debilitating back pain kept her from doing everything she loves. A former long-distance runner, tennis player and weight lifter, Ryan is a hair stylist – a career that further aggravated her condition.
“I couldn’t stand all day to cut hair. And I went from playing tennis four days a week to playing 10 times a year,” says Ryan, 49. “When I played, I paid for it for days.” The Marietta resident says eventually, she “quit doing everything – I couldn’t even walk up stairs.”
Because her WellStar Cobb Hospital physicians thought she was too young for spinal surgery, which brings risk of mobility loss, she went through years of epidurals and radio-frequency ablations, all aimed at relieving her pain. “My doctors were so cautious – they wanted to make sure every avenue had been exhausted.”
Last April, Ryan couldn’t take it anymore. “It was excruciating to just sit,” she explains. Her quality of life had deteriorated to the point where she was willing to risk loss of some mobility, just to get some relief.
On September 15, 2009, Ryan underwent anterior lumbar interbody fusion (ALIF) at WellStar Cobb Hospital. With this technique, surgeons go in through the front of the abdominal region to mend the lumbar spine bones. Interbody fusion means the intervertebral disc is removed and replaced with a spacer. Though the surgery involves temporarily moving large blood vessels and the intestines out of the way, it decreases the risk of nerve damage because spinal nerves and neurologic structures are kept in place. Surgeons removed and replaced three discs (the L4, 5 and S1) with plastic spacers and metal plates and screws, and fused four vertebrae
(the L3, 4, 5 and S1). Spinal fusion stops the motion at the painful vertebral segment in an effort to decrease the pain generated from the joint.
Ryan spent only three nights in the hospital, and was up walking the day of her surgery. “WellStar Cobb Hospital is amazing,” she says. “Every single person at Cobb was unbelievably professional – I felt like they truly cared. My nurse was the sweetest, most precious person. She did everything she could for me, even offering to just sit with me and talk to take my mind off the pain. Every nurse was attentive and caring.
“And everyone balanced respecting my privacy and having access to me,” Ryan explains. “If I had visitors, they would give us time alone if they could. It was like being at home. I would absolutely go back to WellStar Cobb Hospital if I ever needed surgery again.”
Ryan is now back to playing tennis four times a week. “Having the surgery was the greatest thing I ever did,” she smiles. “It was not easy – but my doctors were honest and realistic about my recovery time.” Two months after her surgery, Ryan began eight weeks of three-times-a-week physical therapy. Six months after surgery, she was back to her tennis. She experienced no loss of mobility, and has in fact, gained flexibility, for which she’s grateful. “Now I can swing, slide and jump on the trampoline with Jaden, my three-year-old grandson.
I also can get down on the floor and color with him – and get back up! We even played tennis together recently. I can’t sing the praises of WellStar Cobb Hospital enough.”