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updated: 9/13/2012 4:28 PM

Advocate Condell surgeon offers minimally invasive option for spine patients

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Advocate Condell

Fifty-seven-year old Richmond resident Bernadette Curtis had experienced back problems for nearly five years, though the last two years she began to notice odd symptoms in her feet.

"My feet and ankles were weak, and I would fall for no reason," said Curtis. "I had drop foot -- a condition in which I couldn't flex or even feel them. That made it look like I was walking like a duck."

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Curtis visited a podiatrist, who conducted an electromyography to test the electrical activity in her legs. Suspecting that the problem might be spinal, he ordered an MRI, which revealed a tumor on Curtis' spine. Although only about the size of a pea, the tumor was still roughly the diameter of the spinal cord itself.

"Spinal meningiomas usually are benign, slow-growing tumors," explained Jonathan Citow, MD, a neurosurgeon at Advocate Condell Medical Center. "In rare cases they may be malignant and invade surrounding tissue. Many don't cause symptoms, but if they do, then they need to be surgically removed."

A chiropractor that Curtis used to work for recommended Dr. Citow for her spinal surgery. She was in luck, because Dr. Citow recently developed a new option for spinal surgery.

"The standard way of removing spinal tumors or herniated disks is through relatively large open incisions, which can make for longer, more painful recovery," said Dr. Citow. "That is why I developed a device that is minimally invasive. The incisions are smaller, and there is less muscle dissection so recovery is faster and more complete."

Dr. Citow designed the device himself, which was then custom made for him by Medtronics -- a medical device company based in Minnesota. Dr. Citow plans on making the device available to other surgeons.

Curtis is happy with the results. "It was an outpatient procedure so I was back at home about four or five hours after the procedure. I was up walking around within hours of returning home. It was truly amazing."

"Ms. Curtis' recovery is very typical of patients who have had the minimally invasive surgery," said Dr. Citow. "Many patients are back to work and driving the day after surgery."

Her recovery has been swift, though Curtis knows it will take time before she is completely healed.

"The first week after surgery, I experienced some pinching in my leg. But very quickly, I was able to go up and down stairs normally, rather than on one foot," said Curtis.

Most importantly, Curtis added, "I'm happy that I don't walk like a duck anymore."

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