I have something I want to share with anyone who has ever been affected by back pain. Something that I wish someone had told me about sooner. Something that has instilled hope in my life, which before, had been so restricted by the condition I have called degenerative disk disease. Severe pain had become a part of my lifestyle and each day harder to face than the last. Doctors only assured me that anything they could do would probably make matters worse. Hope had become a thing of the past.
My name is Colleen Gibson and this is my story.
I was 19 years old, working in the Prince George Regional Hospital's operating room, when I initially injured my back. I was pushing the bed of a patient with a broken leg in for surgery when the wheels on the bed fell into the door crack of the elevator, swinging the traction ball attached to her broken leg and causing pressure on her injury. The patient panicked and I quickly lifted the bed out of the crack. This sudden movement caused the ligaments in my back to tear.
My back healed over time but since that day I have had nine of what I call "back attacks". These attacks always occurred when I was bending over. There would be an intense sharp pain in my lower back and I had seconds to find a spot to lie down. The attacks where spread out over the last 26 years with the most recent one being on December 18th, 2004. My disc herniated in 1998 and is now gone. I attended physiotherapy for eighteen months with no recovery.
In the summer of 2005 I went to see my neurosurgeon. He told me I was a candidate for Disc Replacement surgery but he wouldn't recommend it as he was unaware of the long term effects. He also warned that because the surgery was so new in Canada, I would have to sign several release forms so I could not hold them liable if something went wrong. He insisted I wait at least another twenty years for further advancements in the surgery.
The neurosurgeon then followed by saying he would fuse the problem disks in my back instead, if I desired, but it would most likely put pressure on the disc above and eventually result in more problems. The only option he offered that I felt I could take was to lose weight and try to wait out the next three years or so it could take for the bones to naturally fuse. However, this didn't remove the very high chance I had of ending up in a wheel chair in the next several years. Needless to say, I went home feeling like my life was over.
Over the next three years I lost a large amount of weight and waited for my back to fuse. I was walking an hour a day on a treadmill and outdoors on a gravel road. If I tried to bend, lift, or push anything, I would end up bedridden in excruciating pain.
Depression set in the summer of 2006 only to become more severe over the next year. My ability to do anything physical slowly worsened. I could only sit for minutes at a time and walking on cement became torture. I would stay at home getting up and down constantly, trying to keep the pain to a minimum. The hardest was not being able to hold my grandchildren or clean my own home.
Desperate for relief, I decided to look into pain management therapy. I went to see an anesthesiologist for cortisone injections at two levels in my spine. Getting the needle into the proper parts of my spine took multiple tries, each sending an electrical shock to a different part of my body. This traumatic experience was hardly worth the minimal relief it provided, which lasted a very short time. The doctor was shocked at how bad the nerve damage was in my back and said it should have been looked at much sooner.
My now retired family physician, prescribed Percacet, which helped with my daily toleration of the pain, but only served to cover up my slowly worsening problem. His replacement doctor filed for my disability with the government, for which I was approved, but was not able to get any disability income for. It has been 6 years since I have been able to work, which somehow disqualifies me for CPP coverage. My husband has been forced to support me all this time. My family and friends have been cleaning my house and doing my shopping.
In the summer of 2007 this new doctor then sent in a referral to the neurosurgeon I mentioned earlier but to this day we have yet to hear back from him for an appointment. I was almost completely disabled and I was out of options. The depression was severe and the pain even more so. The temptation of giving up constantly presented itself. A life without hope wasn't enough. Little did I know how my life was about to change. Someone was about to bring me some news that would save me from what my life had become. Praise God.
October 28th, 2007, Lurinda Martin from Prince George, BC, was featured in an article in the local newspaper, written by Bernice Trick, titled "Getting Back On her Feet Again". Lurinda had just returned from Germany where she received Artificial Disk Replacement surgery. Reading this article was like listening to myself describe my back pain, except now she was better! Words could not explain how excited I was.
The next day I was able to talk to Lurinda and she gave me all the information I needed. She told me all about her experience and how she was a new woman, free of pain, and had taken her life back. Lurinda's doctor even wrote her a letter supporting everything she had done. I immediately contacted Stenum Hospital in Germany and sent them all my medical records and x-rays, then waited to hear if I qualified for the operation.
Two weeks later I was approved and had my appointment booked for January 25th 2008. They were willing to schedule me even sooner (two weeks after they approved me) but I needed more time to obtain a passport and get the money together. By this time there was already another lady from Prince George, a man from Kamloops, and a man from the US, all booked for surgery on the same day as myself.
The doctors in Germany have been doing disc replacement for fifteen years with great success. They advised me not to wait as things will only get worse. My family doctor at the time wanted me to go for more physiotherapy. I couldn't and I wouldn't. I was told by the doctor in Germany not to do anything else that might make my back worse. I was to start a strict physiotherapy program thirteen weeks after surgery that would continue for the rest off my life.
January 22nd, 2008, I left Prince George for Bremen, Germany. I arrived to a solid day of diagnostic testing and an MRI which revealed more wrong with my back that I had ever imagined. There were several herniations, one of which was going directly into my spinal cord. This wasn't all in my head. There really was something wrong with my back.
The diagnostic after the MRI was as follows: Severe Osteochondrosis (DDD) L4/5 and L5/S1 with local lumbar and pseudo radicular pain syndrome left greater than right. Clear indication for surgical intervention of advanced DDD causing chronic progression of lumbar syndrome related to the L4/5 and L5/S1. The condition proved resistance to conservative therapy. There are no current therapeutic alternatives to surgical intervention for alleviating the pain. Differential diagnostic evaluation of possible surgical option (i.e. ADR Vs. Non-fusion techniques Vs Fusion) gives a clear indication for Disc Replacement (disc prosthesis) of L4/5 and L5/S1.
On January 25th, 2008 my Disc Replacement surgery was completed, which resulted in severe reduction of the pre-operative pain syndrome. It has been over seven weeks since my surgery and I can move more freely and only have some healing pain. The pain that used to rule my life is gone. I feel like a new woman. I can hardly wait until five weeks from now when I can start my muscle building and hopefully even return to work after six months from the surgery!
I am currently trying to contact my neurosurgeon to ask for his support in applying for the out of country medical coverage to pay for my surgery as they require his confirmation that this surgery was necessary. This was a huge financial expense that we have not received any assistance with. My new family physician fully supports me with this application.
I want to tell the world about my new found happiness. There is hope out there for those suffering with back pain. I plan on spreading the word about this cure to the local television stations and papers. I would especially like to do a presentation at the yearly neurosurgeon and orthopedic surgeon meeting to tell them about my experience and what Europe has to offer for those with neck and back problems.
My name is Colleen Gibson, and I have taken back my life.
I would love to tell you more about my experience and provide you with any information that could help you take your life back from back pain.
Thank you so much to Sue, Jim, Dr. Ritter-Lang and all the others responsible for taking such great care of me and giving me a second chance. I want to tell everyone that will listen about the Disc Replacement options that are available to them.
I also want to thank Lurinda for helping this all to happen. And I would like to give a special thanks to my Auntie Barb Watson who came with me to the hospital and cared for me as I recovered. She truly is an angel and I am so blessed to have her in my life. What an amazing person. Thank you all so much! God bless.