Minimally Invasive Disc Surgery Relieves Chronic Neck and Shoulder Pain

Patient Story

Susan Sambor, 58, a Chicago-area human resources director, is very happy to be free from recurring pain in her neck and shoulders. She took her time and evaluated all her options before having an anterior cervical discectomy with fusion last October. Now Susan wonders why she waited so long. “I feel great!” she says.

She was referred to Dr. Foroohar by her internist. “He had ordered an MRI to help diagnose my chronic neck and shoulder pain,” she recalls. “When the MRI showed that I had degenerative disc disease at two levels, he told me I needed to see a neurosurgeon.”

Susan admits she was shocked at first. “When someone says ‘neurosurgeon,’ you think, ‘Oh, my God!’” she says. “My doctor told me, ‘You will absolutely love Dr. Foroohar.’ And he's a conservative guy!”

“I made an appointment with Dr. Foroohar,” she recalls. From the first consultation, Susan felt very comfortable.

Understanding the diagnosis

“Dr. Foroohar is very professional, and she's an excellent listener,” says Susan. “She had already seen the MRI and she confirmed that I had the degenerative issue—and said I also had cervical spinal stenosis.

“She was then able to put my condition in layman's terms for me,” Susan recalls. “Dr. Foroohar said my cervical vertebrae were bone-on-bone at two levels, compressing the cervical nerve roots.”

“Susan had cervical spondylosis, which is degeneration of the joints in the neck,” Dr. Foroohar explains. “She also had herniated discs and spinal stenosis at C5/6 and C6/7.”

“I don't believe I had discs,” Susan laughs. “They were gone! Dr. Foroohar was surprised that I didn't have more significant pain than I did. But she didn't impart any sense of urgency or any disappointment in my not jumping to a solution.”

Considering treatment options

Dr. Foroohar presented Susan with several treatment choices. “She said I could have a cervical epidural steroid injection, try physical therapy and take medications for the pain and inflammation—or have surgery,” she recalls. “Or I could wait and see, because I probably had a pretty decent pain tolerance.”

“Susan underwent physical therapy and took medications including non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, or NSAIDs, but her pain persisted,” says Dr. Foroohar.

“The amazing thing is, Dr. Foroohar had such patience with me,” says Susan. “I'll bet I saw her for at least a year and a half before I had the surgery. My symptoms would come and go, and I would go back.

‘When it's time for surgery, you will know’

“What Dr. Foroohar finally said to me was, ‘Susan, most of my patients don't have trouble making up their mind about surgery. They know when they have to do this. If you don't know—if you're not at that point—that's OK. Because when it's time, you will know.’ She absolutely never pushed me,” Susan recalls.

Fast-forward another eight months. “You would think that a surgeon by this time would say, ‘Hey look, we've already met four times. You've had the MRI. I'm going to tell you the same thing I told you a year ago,’” says Susan.

“Nope,” she adds. “Dr. Foroohar could not have been nicer. She was patient. She listened. Finally, she said, ‘You know, Susan, maybe you should get an EMG.’ ”She'd suggested that a year before. And she explained what an EMG was.

“I asked Dr. Foroohar, ‘If I get the EMG, is that going to change your surgical decision?’ and she said, ‘No, but I think it will help you better understand your condition,’” Susan recalls.

“I thought about it and said, ‘I don't think I'm going to go through with this. I'm going to just keep managing my condition,’” says Susan.

EMG helps Susan make her choice

“A year later, I went back to Dr. Foroohar,” Susan adds. “She said, ‘You never got the EMG. Would you consider that now?’ And I said, ‘OK.’

“Dr. Foroohar said, ‘Typically, if I'm going to do the kind of surgery you would have, you don't have to have an EMG, but I like my patients to do it.’ Then she referred me to a neurologist who made the most uncomfortable test the most pleasant,” says Susan.

The neurologist performed the EMG, starting with Susan's arms. No reaction. “I never had numbness or tingling in my arms,” says Susan. “I hadn't lost any feeling or strength, or had any symptoms in my arms—it was just in my neck—so I didn't have the symptoms that one might otherwise have.

“Then the neurologist tested my neck, and the whole machine lit up—and you could hear snap, crackle pop!” Susan recalls.

“The neurologist said, ‘Do you hear that?’ and I said, ‘Yes,’” Susan recalls. “Then she said, ‘You're not supposed to hear that. I don't think there's going to be much question of what you should do when Dr. Foroohar sees these results.’

“The bottom line was, I had compressed nerve roots,” says Susan. “If that had gone on—and say I'd been rear-ended in an auto accident—I'd have had a huge chance of being paralyzed.

“I went from the neurologist's office to Dr. Foroohar's office and scheduled the surgery.

“Dr. Foroohar was waiting for me to get comfortable with the idea of surgery,” says Susan. “I know she never would have allowed me to be in a position of danger, but she really weighed my sense and my resolve to do this, given that I didn't have the pain or symptoms other people might have based on what she saw on the MRI.

“When Dr. Foroohar finally did the surgery, evidently my condition was worse than the MRI ever showed. The spinal canal was full of bone spurs and she had to drill them all out,” says Susan.

Surgery on Monday, home on Tuesday

Susan had surgery on a Monday morning. “I was the first patient at 7:30,” she recalls. “Next thing I knew, I was waking up. It was about 1:00 in the afternoon. I never had any pain. I never got sick once. I stayed overnight in the hospital. Dr. Foroohar came to see me about 7:00 a.m. the next day. I was released by about 7:30.”

“I looked at my incision today—it's not even an inch,” says Susan. “Typically, I think the bones fuse in six months. Mine fused in five.

“I cannot speak highly enough of my experience with Dr. Foroohar—her patience, her brilliance, her manner,” says Susan. “She is an absolute perfectionist and I would recommend her to anyone. I still have spinal stenosis, so that has to be monitored. But I feel great!”