Christina — Vinton, LA
Christina is a jockey who can hardly go a day without at least wishing to be on a horse. But lately, wishing is all she's been able to do.
Christina was recently competing in a race when her horse fell and she was thrown from it. "I don't know if it was the landing or if it was a horse that ran over me," she said. Doctors told her she might never walk or ride again.
"I have to say that when I was lying in the dirt at the track I thought, 'Oh, this is the end,'" Christina said. "I did not think I would be paralyzed, but I knew it was a possibility." She had fractured her T6 vertebra during the accident—in addition to one of her kidneys and spleen.
Christina underwent a surgical procedure called a vertebral corpectomy to treat her spinal condition. The word corpectomy is derived from the Latin corporal (relating to the body) and –ectomy (removal), and can involve a full or partial removal of a vertebra depending on the degree of damage.
Her surgeon, Dr. Erich Wolf, removed the fractured bone and implanted a device, called a vertebral body spacer, in its place. He then filled the implant with bony fragments to serve as graft material, which promotes fusing of the surrounding vertebrae.
The accident occurred on December 17, 2004. Christina underwent spinal surgery later that same month.
For three months after the surgery, she was required to wear a back brace, but couldn't wait to perform the daily tasks everyone takes for granted. "[In] March they told me I could start weaning myself off the brace, like, 'Just don't wear it for a few hours in the house' and things like that," she said. "I had already been really not wearing it in the house."
Even so, she grudgingly kept the brace handy.
"I did very little walking around and bending over and stooping and things like that," she said. "I was really uncomfortable at that point going without it."
"Like if I was in the car or even if someone else was driving, I wanted to have that brace with me. Even when I was not really wearing it much, I made sure I had it in the car."
Initially, Dr. Wolf gave Christina two choices: forgo surgery and heal with a hump on her back or fuse some vertebrae. When she chose the surgery, he then explained how he would have to go in through her chest and collapse a lung to access the fractured bone.
Although it appeared the wisest course, the surgery wasn't without consequence. "I have never had a collapsed lung, so all of a sudden I went from being a fit, athletic person to [someone whose] breathing was limited," she said. "They had warned me that the tube they put in my throat would irritate it…and every time I coughed, everything would hurt."
After the surgery, Christina was prescribed some pain medication to aid her recovery. "January 30—that's the last day that I took the pain medication...I wrote it down," she said. "I don't like taking drugs… [So] I tried to wean myself of it as soon as possible."
When Christina was finally free of her back brace, she started working out again.
"I was staying with a neighbor and she had a treadmill and I started walking on that, and that progressed up to when I finally got permission [from Dr. Wolf] to do a little more," she said. "I started jogging."
Christina's normal workout routine before her accident would have been 30 minutes of running followed by 30 more minutes on a StairMaster® or a stationary bike.
But right now she's up to 35 minutes in all. She spends 12 minutes of that time walking and 23 minutes jogging on a treadmill.
"And then on alternate days, I also do some upper body [exercises]—very, very, very light upper body weights, like 3 pounds, between 3 pounds and 5 pounds," she said. "I just try to work my shoulders or a little bit of my back. I'm just now seeing what I can do without hurting myself."
As she started taking on more activities, Christina kept asking Dr. Wolf when she could ride again, or at least sit on a horse.
At an appointment on June 30, she discussed her lifting ability with him. If she kept heavy objects close to her body, she was fine. If she tried to lift them any other way, she felt "a little twinge in there."
"So he said, 'Well, we'd better give it three more months,'" Christina explained.
While she's still waiting for the day that she can mount a horse again, Christina is trying to be patient. She says she's doing her best to strengthen her body and avoid setbacks.
"It has been a long road, but I am finally starting to feel back to normal."
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After reading this please keep in mind that all treatment and outcome results are specific to the individual patient. Results may vary. Complications, such as infection, blood loss, or nerve damage are some of the potential adverse risks of spinal surgery. Please consult your physician for a complete list of indications, warnings, precautions, adverse events, clinical results, and other important medical information.