Lifelong Norwalk, Connecticut resident, Pat Bifano, age 75, loves to spend time with her family, including her husband Al of 56 years, four children, 12 grandchildren, and great granddaughter. She also enjoys working part time. Pat had to put her life on hold when she started experiencing pain so extreme that she couldn't sit down.
Pat has been managing chronic back pain for the past 30 years. This time was different. Every time Pat sat down she would get a shooting pain down her right leg. Eventually, she had to stop driving and working. She had to eat standing up. She couldn't be as active as she wanted to be with her family.
"I was in horrific pain when I was sitting -; I've never been in so much pain," said Pat.
Pat tried cortisone injections, medications, and even an epidural, but nothing gave her relief. So for help, she turned to Robert Brady, MD, an orthopedic surgeon and spine specialist at Norwalk Hospital.
Finding the right treatment
Pat had an MRI that confirmed her diagnosis. She had a foraminal disc herniation at the L5-S1 segment of the spine. The herniated disc was pressing on a nerve, which was why she had intense pain down her right leg.
A herniated disc is a common injury. There are many nerves that travel down the spine, and when one of the rubbery discs that sits between the vertebrae moves out of place it can put pressure on a nerve and cause severe pain, numbness, and weakness in the arms or legs.
Norwalk Hospital acquired a new robotic-guidance and navigation system that enables specially-trained surgeons to perform spinal fusion surgery less invasively and with even greater accuracy and precision. There are many benefits for patients undergoing minimally invasive robotic spinal fusion surgery versus traditional surgery. With the robotic technology, surgery is shorter because the surgeon can access the spine through a single side without repositioning the patient. There's less blood loss and less scarring because incisions are smaller. There's less radiation exposure during surgery because only one CT scan is needed, at most, to show the surgeon where to place the pedicle screws (screws used in spinal fusion).
The new robotic-guidance and navigation system for spinal fusion surgery is available at Norwalk Hospital because we want our spine patients to have access to the most advanced treatment options. The spine is a very small, delicate area with important nerves, so the precision we can achieve by using the robotic technology is a huge advancement in spinal fusion surgery. This is among additional benefits for patients including shorter hospital stay and faster recovery compared to traditional spinal fusion."
Robert Brady, MD, orthopedic surgeon and spine specialist, Norwalk Hospital
Dr. Brady recommended robotic spinal fusion surgery for Pat. He explained that he would use the robotic technology to perform a minimally invasive transforaminal lumbar interbody fusion to alleviate the pressure on the nerve and then stabilize the spine.
"I was excited to have such a cutting edge option available to me. Even though the robotic technology was new, I wasn't nervous because Dr. Brady explained the surgery to me so I really knew what he was going to do," said Pat.
A quick recovery
The first thing Pat noticed when she woke up after robotic spinal fusion surgery at Norwalk Hospital was that the pain in her leg was gone. Also, soon after surgery, she was able to walk down the hall without using a walker.
After Pat went home, she followed all of Dr. Brady's instructions to help speed her recovery. For six weeks, she made sure not to lift any objects heavier than 20 pounds, and not to twist or bend her back. Pat also walked around the house as much as she could and did physical therapy.
Six weeks after surgery, Pat got her life back. She was able to sit and drive. She even went back to work.
"I didn't think I would get better that quickly, but I did," said Pat. "I'm so thankful to Norwalk Hospital; I wouldn't have gone anywhere else. Everyone was great -; the medical assistants, nurses, PAs -; I didn't want for anything. And Dr. Brady is an awesome, skilled surgeon."
Pat is especially happy to be relieved of the leg pain because she and Al are planning to relocate, so she is excited to finally be able to get organized for the move.