Shelly — Indianapolis, IN
Watch Shelly's Story
56K | Broadband When a family friend offered Shelly her first motorcycle ride on the back of his Harley-Davidson, she never dreamed the outcome of what was to be a "quick trip around the block" would be a severe vertebral fracture that required spine surgery. Nor did she realize it would be the start of a journey that would "transform her life in every way possible."
On a sunny summer day in 2000, Shelly and her family were spending a fun afternoon at the "Good Guys Reunion"—the annual gathering of her father-in-law, a former drag racer, and his racing buddies. "We were having a great time," says the now-41-year-old Realtor®, wife, mother and marathon runner from Indianapolis. "One of the fellows arrived on a Harley and, hearing I'd never been on a motorcycle before, offered me a quick ride around the block. I guess I wasn't holding on very well, because when he took off—as Harley riders do, to show what a Harley's all about—I promptly slipped right off the back."
As a result of her fall, Shelly fractured one of the vertebrae of her lumbar spine, or low back, and was transported by ambulance to the local trauma center. "I didn't realize how bad it was, because at the time my back just felt kind of achy," she recalls. "But it turned out that a large portion of my broken L2 vertebra was pushing into the spinal canal, so it was a serious injury."
The orthopaedic surgeon who examined Shelly at the trauma center, Dr. David Schwartz, determined that surgery would be required to repair her injury. Her procedure, a three-level, anterior spinal fusion using the CD HORIZON® LEGACY™ Anterior Spinal System, was scheduled for the next day. "When they said I had to have spine surgery, I thought my life was over," Shelly admits. "I was told I had about a 70% chance of walking ever again, and about a 30% chance of severe nerve damage. So, I was scared. I'm pretty young and fit, so I was afraid that was the end of doing all the things I liked to do with my family and friends. And it never occurred to me that I might not ever be able to work as well, or ever again."
Just the previous month, Shelly had finished her first half-marathon (13.1 miles), and was looking forward to training with and competing in more races with her running buddies. "I was still pretty new to running," she says. "I'd been a mom just going through life, but then I started running with some friends. Running that first mini-marathon was life-changing and exciting—I felt like I was on my way to becoming a mid-life athlete."
Shelly's active family also kept her on the run. "My son was about 10 at the time, and into every sport there was," she says. "So, we were always on the go." Her social life was equally boisterous—and physically challenging. "With our group of friends, one of the highlights of our holiday parties is something we like to call 'Stupid Human Tricks,' where we do things like pick up a cup from the floor with no hands or touch the top of the door with your foot," she explains. "We just like to have fun. And because I was the youngest, I was also the most flexible."
Lying in her hospital bed, Shelly was afraid her days of amazing others with her feats of strength and flexibility were over. "I saw myself getting pushed around in a wheelchair while everybody else was having a good time," she recalls. "I thought that even if my surgery was a success, with a three-level fusion I wouldn't even be able to bend over to tie my own shoes. Even though Dr. Schwartz explained everything thoroughly and logically, and I knew I was getting good information about the procedure and the technology, emotionally I was devastated. I thought life as I knew it was over."
Spinal fusion is a surgical technique in which one or more of the vertebrae of the spine are joined together (fused). This is done by placing bone grafts or bone graft substitutes between the affected vertebral bodies. The graft material acts as a binding medium and also helps to maintain normal disc height—as the body heals, the vertebral bone and bone graft eventually grow together to join the vertebrae and stabilize the spine.
Instrumentation, such as screws, plates and cages, also may be used to create an "internal cast" to support the vertebral structure during the healing process. The CD HORIZON® LEGACY™ Anterior Spinal System consists of a series of vertebral body staples, rods, screws and CROSSLINK® Plates. The system permits load sharing, allows for distraction to accommodate the bone graft and is compatible with surgical imaging. It is designed for use in the thoracic and lumbar spine, and is indicated for patients requiring spinal fusion to treat spinal instability resulting from trauma, tumor, severe curvature or degenerative disease.
Shelly's procedure involved an anterolateral (frontal) approach for accessing the spine. She was sedated under general anesthesia, and following her surgery was given medication intravenously for pain. Because the damage to her vertebra was so extensive, she was in the hospital for seven days. Before she was released, she was fitted with a hard plastic brace that extended from her collarbone to her hips, which she was to wear for about three months. "My surgery went really well," she says. "Pain-wise, I was very fortunate. Because they had to go in and repair so much damage to my spine, my incision was fairly large—about 11 inches—so for the first week or so, I had some incision pain and a little muscle pain. But as for my back pain—that achy feeling was gone.
"I had really expected it to be awful. But by following Dr. Schwartz's instructions—I'm a vegetarian, so I had to boost my iron and calcium and really watch my diet—my recovery seemed to go really well."
Within six weeks of her surgery, Shelly had started a walking program, as well as physical therapy. "I started out walking pretty slowly," she says. "In therapy, I was pedaling with my hands and working with a fitness ball. Dr. Schwartz stressed that this was for the benefit of my muscles; my spine was healing just fine. Whenever he'd show me the x-rays, he'd comment on how strong it was becoming, and on the solidity of the fusion."
Shelly admits that it took her a while to get over her initial concerns that she might do something to re-injure her back or dislodge the instrumentation that was implanted during her surgery. "Dr. Schwartz and his staff really helped me get past the worry—they reassured me and gave me good, factual information about the technology in a way that I could understand. I'm so grateful and appreciative they had the technology to fix me, I now keep a supply of Dr. Schwartz's cards and pass them out to people I meet who might benefit."
About six months post-surgery, Shelly was cleared to start running again. "I cried the first time I ran—not because I was in pain, but because I was so overwhelmed with emotion that I was out there again, and that I was OK." The following May—almost one year after her surgery—Shelly finished her second mini-marathon, the same one she ran the month before her injury. "That first year, once I started running again, I logged about 1,500 miles."
During her recovery, she also gained a new running partner: her surgeon, Dr. Schwartz. "When we met, he wasn't a runner, but I was so happy with the way he and his team had helped me that one day I looked at him and said, 'You know, you're always taking care of others—are you taking the time to care for yourself?" So, my husband and I invited him to run with us and our friends. He knew some runners, too, so over the years we've all logged thousands of miles and become very good friends."
Shelly's experience also influenced her son's choice of career. "As a high school student, he started working with Dr. Schwartz at the hospital, and over the years it really made an impression on him," Shelly explains. "He's in college now—a junior in pre-med—and he plans to specialize in orthopaedics.
"Nobody wishes to be in an accident, but this experience has transformed mine and my family's life in every way possible, and for the better," she adds. "The people we have met and continue to meet as a result have just been amazing."
On January 7, 2007 Shelly ran her first full marathon, the Walt Disney Marathon in Orlando. In early October, she and Dr. Schwartz were among the runners allowed to finish the Chicago Marathon, which was called off four hours into the event because of unseasonably hot weather. "It was a really unusual situation, but none of us got sick and my back felt great," she says. "I didn't have any problems or any pain." A few weeks later, Shelly and her running cohorts competed in their own city's major racing event, the Indianapolis Marathon.
Today, the rest of Shelly's life is also back on track, including her career as a real estate agent. "For the first several months of my recovery, work was my biggest challenge," she explains. "I'm a Realtor®, which means I spend a lot of time driving. I couldn't while I was wearing the brace, so I took six months off. With more than six years in the same company, my business was good, but in sales if you're off that long, you know you'll essentially have to start over.
"But I went back to work full-time, pain-free, within three months, and was able to pick up right where I left off. Today I remain pain-free and very grateful for the Medtronic CD HORIZON® LEGACY™ Anterior System technology."
And at parties with her friends, Shelly's also now back to her same old tricks—Stupid Human Tricks, that is. "I'm still the queen," she proclaims, "even with a three-level fusion!"
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.